by Marissa Lorenz
The 23rd Annual Wolford Mountain Ice Fishing Tournament was hosted this past weekend by the Kremmling Area Chamber of Commerce (KACC), in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), the Grand County Tourism Board, and the Colorado River District. It was a day of fun, frivolity, and big fish, and “the most beautiful weather we could hope for,” according to Tara Sharp, KACC Executive Director.
“The event was a great success,” Sharp said. She goes on to express the excitement when one of the first caught fish of the day, a rainbow trout whose final measurement (length times girth) was 29.5 inches, was a tagged fish that also turned out to be the largest of the tournament. The CPW releases 10 tagged fish each year into different areas of the reservoir, aging brood fish from the Crystal River Hatchery near Carbondale, according to Jon Ewert, aquatic biologist with the CPW who measures the tournament catches each year. The first tagged fish caught is guaranteed a $5,000 payout by the Chamber, but must be verified as from that year’s release. That number was corroborated and the prize money went to Ben Martinez, of Denver, who also bagged the $1,200 prize for largest fish. “We didn’t expect the largest fish to also be one of the tagged fish,” says Ewert. “It’s never happened before, and it would be pretty unusual for it to happen again.”
396 contestants registered for the event, including 37 free kids. By day’s end, 84 fish had been measured for paying contestants and 14 for the unpaid youth contestants. 4 crayfish were measured throughout the day. Most registered contestants were from Colorado or Wyoming, with one contestant from South Africa.
Registration was down slightly this year, which Sharp attributed to Friday being Valentine’s Day. She explains that most contestants come into town the night before the contest and she heard various people say that “they were lucky their wives let them come at all!” But outside of fundraising for the Chamber, the event is also intended to bring business into town, and this goal appeared to have been achieved with lodging being filled up on Friday night, eateries busy, and a line out the door of the Grand Old West, as diners awaited a holiday feast of sirloin, crab legs and red velvet cake. In all, “it was a great success,” noted Sharp, “giving Kremmling exposure, bringing people into our businesses, and getting people outside for a lot of fun.” Ewert agrees, saying, “It’s great to see everyone out there enjoying themselves. I love to work the tent and see all the exceptional fish people bring in. The CPW is proud to partner with the Chamber for this event each year.”
And there were plenty more winners! Other prize money, decreasing in amount from $800 to $75, went to the next 10 largest fish caught by Johnathon Orenday (28.25-inch brown), Ken Walter (26.25-inch rainbow), Steve Schake (25.625-inch rainbow), Dustin Barnes (25-inch rainbow), Kent Andrews (24.625-inch brown), Charles Hassler and Paul Machione (each with a 24.625-inch rainbow), Ben Vilgoen (24.125-inch rainbow), Lynn Kopasz (23.875-inch brown), and Steve Moreiko (23.5-inch rainbow). The top five also won prizes for being the largest in a given hour with Paul Dicks, Adam Clodfelter, and Cory Williams also winning hourly prizes.
Unpaid youth did not qualify for cash prizes but had some resounding success as well. The 10 largest fish for this group were caught by Aubrey White (25.5-inch brown), Braeden Johnson
(23.875-inch rainbow), Aubrey White, (22.750-inch rainbow), Noah Calebres (22.625-inch rainbow), Joshua Dehaish (21.875-inch rainbow), Cameron Phillips (21.5-inch rainbow), Samuel Martinez (21-inch rainbow), Isaiah Mendoza (20.875-inch rainbow), Austin Martinez (20.375-inch brown), and Mason Wheat (19.875-inch rainbow). Unpaid youth Mike Calabrese had the largest fish between 12:00 PM and 12:59 PM, with a 19.875-inch rainbow.
And with the 2020 success under their belt, Sharp says that the Chamber is already planning for next year’s competition. “The double payout for the largest fish and first tagged fish was pretty exciting for everyone and made for a great contest. We think it will increase registration as participants will know that those fish are actually out there!” She has already garnered a new partnership promise from the US Ice Fishing Association to provide a hospitality tent in 2021 with free chili and coffee. “It will only boost the great event we’ve already got going on. After all, who doesn’t like free chili and coffee?”