- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2014

FLAMING GORGE RESERVOIR, Wyo. (AP) - Utah anglers Clint and Justin Chadwick dragged their ice fishing gear slowly across the frozen lake in sleds as the sun set Saturday night. They had dangled lines in the water the entire night before with not a single fish to show for their efforts in the fifth annual Burbot Bash ice fishing derby.

Chuck Vanacore had only caught three fish with his two buddies from Utah.

“But you can say we got 30,” he said. “All fishermen lie anyway.”

It wasn’t all bad. The winning team reeled in 282 fish during the two-day derby.

In total, 400 anglers caught, weighed and verified about 2,000 fish during Flaming Gorge Reservoir’s ice fishing derby Friday through Sunday. Between a November fishing tournament, the ice derby last weekend and the months in between, anglers caught 4,039 burbot in an open war on the invasive, predatory species.

The fishing efforts may be making a difference, said Craig Amadio, Green River fisheries biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The number of burbot in Flaming Gorge has dropped about 30 percent in the past four or five years, according to Game and Fish netting operations and angler surveys. Other fish species such as kokanee, lake and rainbow trout and even smallmouth bass may be taking advantage of fewer predators, he said.

“The whole point of managing against burbot is to minimize the impacts on the others,” Amadio said.

Game and Fish reclassified burbot as a non-game fish this year and required any caught in the entire Green River watershed be removed.

The trick for some anglers at the bash wasn’t what to do with them once caught, but how to catch them at all.

They packed their ice fishing camp into a trailer Saturday night before dark. The tournament wouldn’t end until Sunday morning, but Casey Lovell, Dillon Cotterman and Aaron McCallister had only two fish. They weren’t in the money.

“We fished for seven hours yesterday and couldn’t catch anything. He shows up and catches two,” McCallister said, pointing to Cotterman.

None of the men typically fish tournaments. This was their first Burbot Bash. Lovell came from Rock Springs, Cotterman from Laramie and McCallister from Farson.

They tried fishing by cliffs where it should have been good. Lovell wondered if there was simply too much food suspended in the water from all of the anglers. Burbot could be picky.

They’d heard rumors of some guys catching more than 100 of the slimy fish.

“When I went in to weigh them, there were some guys with Igloo coolers full of fish,” Cotterman said. “I got a Wal-Mart bag with our two.”

They still planned to eat their catch. Steam it up and dip it in butter, McCallister said, and it tastes like poor-man’s lobster.

It could have been worse. They heard one team didn’t catch any.

Paul Medler caught a 9.5 pound burbot once in Flaming Gorge Reservoir, but it wasn’t during a derby, so he didn’t win any money. In the five years since it started, the Rock Springs angler hasn’t won anything in the Burbot Bash. This year’s wasn’t looking good, either. He spent 14 hours jigging for burbot Friday night and caught 10.

One of them was so small at 10.2 inches, he nearly won for smallest catch. Smallest fish might sound funny, but the winner with a 9.3-inch burbot took home $650.

Medler sat in a folding camp chair all of Friday night in his blue ice fishing tent running through bottles of propane for heat. He didn’t listen to the radio or watch TV. Part of the appeal of ice fishing at night is the quiet escape from reality.

The derbies must be changing the burbot population in the Gorge.

“Usually, we’re getting bites left and right,” he said.

Except this year. At least not where he was.

Most anglers don’t bring mouse traps on the ice. Utah buddies Brad Steele, Scott Tingey, Justin Lofley and Duane Nielson aren’t most anglers. And they were proud of their contraptions.

Instead of sitting next to a hole dangling their rods in the water all night, they made a rod that would set a hook in the fish on its own.

It worked like this: A fishing pole handle rested in a red coiled spring. The top of the rod was bent down into the mouse trap and the line fell in the water. When a fish pulled on the line, it set the trap, released the rod tip and, theoretically, set the hook in the unsuspecting fish’s mouth.

They also put bells and glow sticks on the traps to alert the anglers of any fish or movement.

The group caught five burbot Friday night. It was their first burbot and their first tournament. The fish felt slimy and stank a little in their cooler. Their biggest burbot was between 14 and 16 inches, not a contender in a derby where the biggest fish measured 35.5 inches.

But by dark Saturday night, their traps were set again and the holes marked with more glow sticks.


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, https://www.trib.com

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