Reeling ’em in: 10th annual ice fishing tournament returns to Routt County after 3-year hiatus

Waiting patiently without a bite for a long time, Steamboat local Jan Wolford catches a trout as the time ticks away in the 10th annual Ice Fishing Tournament at Stagecoach State Park on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023.
Tom Skulski/Steamboat Pilot & Today

A pack of nearly 700 stepped foot onto the icy surface at Stagecoach State Park bright and early on Saturday, Jan. 7, in hopes of catching the two longest combined trout while ice fishing. 

It was the 10th annual Ice Fishing Tournament hosted by Steamboat Fishing Adventures and like all the others, was filled with smiling faces and massive trout. 

Traveling to their favorite location on the lake, Steamboat Springs resident Nick Yaw and his buddies hopped on the snowmobile at 8 a.m., rode to their spot and began drilling holes 10 inches in diameter through the ice, which was about a foot thick. 

The early morning was the busy part of the day. Yaw and his friends caught tons of fish early on, releasing the ones that were small and holding onto the bigger ones. 

A little after 10:40 a.m. Yaw got a bite and hooked a fish that took him for a ride. The fish kept taking line but Yaw remained determined.

Eventually, he got the fish’s head through the ice hole and onto the surface. It was a 22-inch rainbow trout that was sure to do some damage in the official measurement at the end of the day. 

Despite catching a few more smaller trout before noon, the lake eventually grew calm. The fish stopped feeding and there was a disciplined patience growing throughout the park. 

Nick Yaw battled with this trout early Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023, before pulling the 22-inch fish out of the lake at Stagecoach State Park. It was one of the biggest fish caught on the day, earning Yaw sixth place in Steamboat Fishing Adventures’ 10th annual Ice Fishing Tournament.
Tom Skulski/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Yaw has been fishing in Stagecoach for decades and says this has always been the trend in the water there. 

“It’s how Stagecoach is,” Yaw said. “It’s really good in the morning and then it shuts off until 3 or 4.”

The issue was, the competition ended at 3 p.m. and those who had just one large fish found themselves growing impatient and frantically drilling more holes and trying whatever they could to get a fish.

Like Yaw, many competitors knew their setup location had a lot to do with performance and remained in shallow waters because that is where the fish will feed.  

Levi and Nicole Dufford hit the lake with their friend Michael Landgren for the competition. The crew has fished many times in Stagecoach and had an exact plan of attack. 

Michael Landgren of Routt County grabs a trout in the early afternoon of an Ice Fishing Tournament at Stagecoach State Park on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023.
Tom Skulski/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Levi Dufford explained there is a true science to it and the key is knowing the tendencies of the fish and how they operate. 

“You need an understanding of what the trout are doing, where they are feeding and when,” he said. “Then you’ve got structure you can work off of. I do a lot of fishing in this lake with a kayak, so I know whereabouts they like to sit.”

This was the tournament’s first time back in a few years in light of the pandemic. Steamboat Fishing Adventures owner Brady Wettlaufer said it brought a tear to his eye to see the competition return. 

“Getting all these people here and doing it again, my heart is pounding and my stomach is turning,” Wettlaufer said. “It just breathes community and breathes kids and that is what it is all about right there. It’s amazing to pass it on, we can’t keep this sport going without these kids right here.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.