New fishing derby to become annual event

Makayla Buckley and dad Douglas Buckley hang out in the bombardier waiting for a bite. Although they did not catch anything, they enjoyed the near zero degree temperatures on the March 24 afternoon.

For its first run, Hay River’s Ice fishing derby on March 24 was hailed by organizers as a success. 

Approximately 238 people registered in Hay River’s first and hopefully annual fishing derby on Great Slave Lake. 

People in camping chairs, children on sleds and in snow suits and some furry friends snuggled in wooden huts. Tents lined a series of ice roads to make a small encampment of fishing holes approximately one kilometre from the town’s public beach.

Organizers were surprised and delighted at the turnout. The derby spawned from an idea developed by the Hay River Trade and Tourism Advisory Committee.

“We (ultimately) want to generate economic growth and development for the community,” said event organizer Kathy McBryan. “We wanted to keep it relatively small this year so we’d have a chance to learn from our mistakes, but I think it went over very well. Everyone thought it was a good idea. This was to see if we could pull it off and we did.”

The allotted 250 tickets were sold before the derby and extra tickets were available the day of the derby. While the turnout of humans was impressive, the fish were not as co-operative. Only two fish were caught. One of them was reeled in by Jessie Lauridsen of High Level. Lauridsen travelled to Hay River with her father, uncle and younger sister, and caught the 4.5 pound jackfish with her uncle’s fishing rod.

“He said he’d let me try and catch a fish,” said Lauridsen, sheepishly. “This is my first time ice fishing.”

McBryan said they hope to travel to deeper waters for next year’s derby, depending on conditions, hopefully to a spot with more fish. They will stay close enough to town so people don’t have problems travelling to the fishing holes.

“At least we didn’t get skunked,” said McBryan. “You’d always hope for more fish but maybe next year we can try at a different location that’s still accessible to the community.”

There were cash and prizes to be won. Lauridsen won the first prize of $1,200, Donna-Lee Jungkind won the second prize of $750 and Louis Dumas won the draw for the 14-foot boat. With many local attendees, the goal is to draw in more people from out of town to the event, said McBryan.