Despite drawing record crowds, the area’s only ice fishing tournament once again sent the top trophies home with Powell anglers.
Braving wind chill temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees F during the Saturday-Sunday tournament, most anglers at the Upper and Lower Sunshine reservoirs suffered as much from a lack of bites as frostbite; several of the teams were skunked both days. Some even had worse luck than that. In the end, Powell residents brought home big checks in both divisions of the Meeteetse Ice Fishing Derby.
The three-man team of Don Adams, Butch Hanson and Tim Large took home the top honors. Not only did they win the fat stack, Adams won the Big Fish award and was one of only two winning gamblers to bet on his team in Calcutta wagering. Adams and Hanson also won nifty door prizes.
The team won with 192.25 inches of trout. Two fish measured over 24 inches long, averaging 11 inches in girth. The team has fished in every one of the derby’s 11 contests, previously finishing on the podium three times. But they had never won. There was no question at the weigh-in, taking first place by more than 9 inches despite “the big one” getting away.
“I didn’t think I had enough tackle to get it out of the water. I went in after it up to my elbow but it got away,” said Adams, still lamenting the loss.
Team Adams had never met the defending champions prior to Sunday. But the three knew their names and Adams’ lost fish worried him at weigh-in. The husband and wife team of Terry and Brenda Mari, also of Powell, is nearly synonymous with the derby — only newbies were oblivious to their record.
The duo was trying to keep a low profile, setting off to fish in the “middle of nowhere,” Terry said. They hadn’t fished the first day of the derby, forcing them to work hard to catch up. And they weren’t seeing many fish.
“It was one of the worst days we’ve ever seen out here,” he said.
Team Mari has won half the contests in the tournament’s decade-long history. They’ve earned respect for their uncanny ability to find big fish on the lower reservoir. But now they’ve won so many times, they’re often compared to the New England Patriots.
“They’re so good, it’s just not fair,” joked Jordyn Payne, of Meeteetse.
Instead of a pigskin, the Maris win with sucker meat. They pulled in their limit — with the longest being just under 24 inches and the entire stringer was filled with fish over 20 inches each. Nobody remembers who takes second at the Super Bowl, but seeing Terry pick up the second place check won’t subtract much from “dynasty” comparisons next year.
After predicting a top five finish weeks before the derby, Bart Burningham’s all-fish hatchery team backed it up. Bart’s son, Hunter, and Greg Lehr saved themselves some major razzing by taking fourth place. Their 170.375 inch stringer just beat out the next two places by a little more than a half-inch.
In the Small Fry division, Powell’s Isi Tobin, 9, took second place with 51.75 inches of fish behind Camren Kulze, who had a solid 53 inch stringer. Tobin’s fishing partner Tempie Day, 8, took the sixth-place spot with a 44.63 inch stringer.
The derby-record 90 teams (of up to three members) and 27 children registered had to drill through nearly 3 feet of ice. Jesse Williams, of Cody, couldn’t believe the ice conditions.
“I’ve been fishing here 45 years and never seen this thick of ice,” Williams said.
Several teams took to the ice in their vehicles; one team even took their fifth-wheel camper with them, a comfortable shelter from the cold.
The fish scored some victories as well, getting the better of Jerry Kiser on Saturday.
“I had two poles go down the hole,” Kiser said, adding, “Probably with the fish still on.”
Despite the bad luck, the Worland resident was able to land one fish for the Sunday weigh-in.