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Fishing derby to hit the ice

By Staff | Jan 2, 2015

Tribune File Photo Several area fishers hit the ice during last year’s Fishing Derby at Sand Lake. The 20th Almost Annual Fishing Derby is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 10.

The Rugby Eagles 20th Almost Annual Fishing Derby is scheduled to hit the ice at Sand Lake on Saturday, Jan. 10. The event is billed as ‘Almost Annual’ because some years bad weather or other adverse conditions have forced a cancellation, according to Paul Niemi, derby organizer.

“One year we postponed it because of bad weather, but by mid-March when we had it, the fish weren’t biting. We will never again postpone it to a later date,” Niemi said. “So one year we didn’t have it at all.”

“Two years ago we didn’t have the fishing part because of cold and wind,” Niemi said. “It was 15 degrees below with about a 20 mile per hour wind.” Since some of the participants are as young as four years old, conditions were deemed to extreme to go forward.

But, barring any unforseen developments, this year looks to be a go. When Niemi checked the fishing conditions on Saturday, he found the ice to be two feet thick. “There were six houses out there,” he said.

Niemi was president of the Eagles Club in 1992 and, as head of the group, had to come up with a fund-raising project. He thought an ice fishing derby at Balta Dam could be a success. “But after two or three years there the lake died,” he said. “The ice was thick and there was no oxygen in the water.”

So the tournament was moved to Sand Lake, 10 miles northeast of Rugby, where it has enjoyed a good run. “We always have over 100 kids as well as a couple hundred adults,” Niemi said. One particularly successful year saw 400 people on the ice.

The derby consists of two divisions, one for youth under age 21, the other for adults.

Prizes are awarded for perch and northerns, two species in abundance at Sand Lake. “People always catch lots of perch out there,” Niemi stated, “and they have been slowly getting bigger every year. Last year the winning perch weighed over a pound.” Northerns are nice-sized also with winners usually in the six to seven pound range. A few years back a teenage girl pulled out a 10 lb. whopper.

Niemi has been spearheading the whole shebang since its inception, arranging for the printing of posters and tickets, placing advertising with media, contacting local merchants and organizations for door prizes and hiring the cook for the evening meal which concludes the day’s activities. “We used to have a dance with a band, but people don’t stay to dance these days,” he said, so that has been scrapped.

But it’s not a one-man show, and Niemi is grateful to faithful Eagles members who volunteer to help with various chores involved with the event. He has a three- to five-person crew on the ice the day of the derby. The Eagles Club, the Wolford Wildlife Club and the Barton Sportsman’s Club provide prizes and pop for the participating children. And area businesses are generous with door prizes, he says.

The derby runs from noon to 2 p.m. on Jan. 10, with Theresa’s roast beef dinner to follow at the Eagles that evening. Derby-only tickets for kids are $5, payable on the ice, with 100% payback. Adult tickets are $20 and include the fishing contest, three large raffle prizes, a host of door prizes and the evening meal. Adults can attend the dinner only for $9, or children for $5. Adult tickets are available at the North Cenex, Hardware Hank, Farmers Union Elevator, Lee’s Bar and the Eagles Club.

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