Tradition is the soul.
Anticipation is the heart.
Photos are proof.
Every outdoor enthusiast has traditions. Shared rituals that kick off your favorite season from Waterfowl to Upland. Walleye to Whitetails. We invite the same people each year. We set off in search of that one spot, the opening morning honey hole, that sets the season off in style.
So what do you consider a weekend which carries the anticipation of opening morning? But it’s smack in the middle of the season?
An annual outing where all my buddies and I sport ridiculous mustaches. Where it’s OK to drink Hot Damn and Blackberry Brandy. In front of your friends. Who are dudes. Because we’re ice fishing, after all. A sport so manly it can make Pucker look hard. Trust me on this.
I call it the Trout Derby. And fishing in the Derby has been a Thrubis family tradition for about 20 years. This annual event challenges anglers of all ages to land a wild(ish) Rainbow Trout through a hole in the ice with light tackle or tip-ups. It isn’t hard to do. In theory. The trout are numerous and hungry.
Access to the lake is shut down around November, about the same time the lake is stocked. For months the lake sits quietly in the woods. Suddenly, like Bonnaroo or something, the tents come out. The lake becomes 2 hours of great fishing. And 2-4 more hours of one kick-ass party.
The best shot at hooking some fish is to be ready as soon as the Derby begins. Participants are allowed to set-up shanties and drill holes but no bait-soaking until the official start. When the starters pistol reported Jim got to jigging.
I was busy setting a tip-up when my brother hollered. Looking through the shanty door and I could see the rod bending at the reelseat. Line zipped into the water making little bubbles as the fish shook his head. When he stopped running Jim slowly coaxed him up out of the weeds. For about three minutes we watched him dart back and forth under the hole furiously trying to shake the jig. Jim turned him face-up in the hole and I landed him with a swift gill grab which froze my sleeve.
8:10 am. One trout on the ice. Our first fish of the day. Actually, the first fish Jimmy has ever caught through the ice.
I ran back to grab my buddy Rick and his gear. He was kind enough to loan us his Ranger side-by-side. That machine made short work of carrying 12 anglers, 4 shanties, 1 gas auger and countless coolers, chairs and 5 gallon buckets. The least I could do is give him a ride to the spot.
When I got back to Trout Camp my flag was up. Jim checked it but didn’t feel any weight on the line. Seeing fish swim right under the shanty, he quickly got back to work with the brass jig and a minnow.
I started pulling the line to reset the tip-up when the trout remembered he was hooked. He pulled the line through my hands and buried in the weeds. I pulled slowly to keep the light leader, 6lb fly fishing tippet, and tiny treble hook in constant contact with the fish. My frozen sleeve trick worked again landing a 17 3/4″ Rainbow.
8:20 am. Two trout on the ice. Opened my first beer.
The flags took a pounding the next 45 minutes. I lost three fish on the “lucky” tip-up. Bert’s flag popped and when he got to the hole it was apparent he had a nice fish on the line.
Dirty Bert battled the bow. We got it up in the hole at least three times but couldn’t get a grip on him. This fish had shoulders. He also had pliers. Cause he somehow shook the hook and joined his farm-raised buddies back under the ice.
Dejected and guilty for losing a monster, I headed back to my shanty. My other tip-up popped. A nice 15″ bow put up a decent fight and joined the other 4 future-fillets on the ice.
8:45. Three on the ice. Four lost in battle. Make that five. I botched another gill grab for my brother in the shanty. Open that Blackberry Brandy.
Bottle in one hand and jigging rod in the other watching fish swim by that wouldn’t bite. With the bottle to my lips….”WHAM”….another 17″+ fish ran with my jig. My brother made short work of the landing job. 4 fish on the ice and we have officially tied our all-time derby record.
10 am. Branden sets the record at 5. It could have been 6 but we broke off another steelhead looking rainbow slab on his tip-up. Commence partying.
11 am (or so) my sister, wife, mom and some friends join us on the lake. We ate venison steaks and toasted to the memory of anglers who were only with us in spirit. My sisters friend had a brief battle with another trout who snapped the line.
We hung around until the derby officially ended, around 1 pm. The Derby “officials” measured the two largest fish from our group. I was hoping for a years worth of bragging rights. I missed it by about 3″. The winner had a trout over 20″. I bought a gaff on the ride home. Next year, I’m landing those big boys.
The rest of the weekend was spent eating, drinking and watching Pike tip-ups from the family room of my folks cabin. We joked around with good friends. My Dad made martinis. We kick around Derby legends like “Mr. Linoleum” (an inventive sled that shattered on it’s maiden voyage. Only later to find out my mom was saving that vinyl to line the cabinets) and the Snow-Bowl (when Jay broke his arm completing a reception in the worlds greatest football game played on the ice). We sang karaoke. We drank some more. We ate chicken nuggets at 1 am.
There’s nothing like the Trout Derby.
If you’re interested in becoming a member at Lost Lake Woods Club check-out their site.
Disclaimer: I am a member of the club but was not paid or given anything at all by the club to write this story. This is not a promotion for the Derby, just another great story from a family tradition.
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