When Scott and Bob Soliday walked up to weigh-in their second day catch, all eyes went straight to the fat belly of a giant on their stringer. It was the kind of catch that keep fishermen up at night in anticipation of a day on open water.
The lake trout, caught at Lower Sunshine Reservoir during day two of the May Days in Meeteetse Open Water Fishing Derby, was more than 2 feet long and had an impressive girth of 14.25 inches. The pig-like trophy was the largest fish caught in the tournament — which saw teams struggling to hook fish in inclement weather — and propelled the Soliday brothers to the top of the leader board in the annual tournament.
“I got a hernia picking him up,” Edward Porter, president of the Meeteetse Visitor Center, joked after weighing in the fish.
The Soliday brothers, of Basin, just let their fish do the talking. The teammates took home the bulk of the prize money winning first overall and the large fish category. Strong wind and scattered showers took some of the fun out of fishing for contestants, but it was finicky fish that soured the experience for most. The key word here is most. It was a battle that saw some teams coming in with skimpy stringers; Rob Howe, of Greybull, caught his team’s only fish in the final moments of the tournament on the way back to the dock.
Mikayla Norman and Jodi Firnekas, of Powell, proved you don’t need a boat to catch fish. They brought in a stringer of beautiful fish on day two using sucker meat (a non-game fish in the reservoir) and casting from the bank. They teamed up with Rob Martin, but he wasn’t much help.
“I didn’t contribute,” Martin said after getting skunked.
The Soliday brothers were throwing Thomas lures from their boat when they landed their big laker. The lures were initially inspired by fishing the west, produced by Czech immigrant Richard Shubert, who came to Montana to learn English in the 1930s. After falling in love with trout fishing, Shubert returned to New York and began producing Thomas Spinning Lures, still popular lures in the area.
Of the four species of game fish in the reservoir, lake trout are ones not currently stocked by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. They were stocked briefly in the 90s and now naturally reproduce at low levels, said Sam Hochhalter, Cody region fisheries supervisor. Lower Sunshine reservoir has Yellowstone cutthroat and lake trout and two hybrids: tiger trout (a cross of brook and brown trout) and splakes (a cross of brook and lake trout). Upper Sunshine is only stocked with cutthroats.
“They’re quality fisheries — among the most popular standing water fisheries in the Cody Region. People travel from all over the Big Horn Basin to fish them,” Hochhalter said.
Not that catching fish at the twin reservoirs in the foothills of the Absaroka Mountain Range is needed to have a great day on the water near the historic town of Meeteetse. The clear water reservoirs, just west of town, are surrounded by snow-capped peaks and loaded with exciting views of western buttes and wildlife.
Missing from the spring event were contestants in the small fry division. The ice fishing derby put on by the Meeteetse Visitor Center is a favorite for the kids, many winning awards and door prizes that keep them coming back. However, despite offering the same level of prizes, the open water event usually brings in hardcore fishermen from the region and few kids. Porter is hoping the May tournament, which has been running for more than a decade, catches on in the future.
“We don’t get a large turnout for the May event, but I have to say it’s successful,” he said. “We get so much going on in the Basin during the summer, it’s hard to schedule activities.”
Graduations and sporting events compete with activities offered, he said. Yet Porter still hopes the group’s other events scheduled this summer bring visitors to the historic town. Highlights of activities in Meeteetse include the Taste of Meeteetse, which coincides with the Tour De Wyoming passing through on July 19-20 and The National Day of the Cowboy celebration. The celebrations include an old-fashioned ranch rodeo, followed by a free barbecue and entertainment at the Oasis Motel. Local inductees in the Cowboy Hall of Fame will be recognized.
1) Team No. 2 (Captain Scott Soliday)
2) Team No. 1 (Captain Mike Saldana)
3) Team No. 3 (Captain Robert Gurney)
4) Team No. 5 (Captain Tom Jeunehomme)
5) Team No. 10 (Captain Dan Bush)
6) Team No. 8 (Captain Mikayla Norman)