Steamboat Fishing Adventures benefits South Routt community's youth through ice fishing tournament |

Steamboat Fishing Adventures benefits South Routt community’s youth through ice fishing tournament

Herman Venzke, Brady Wettlaufer and Joanna Farley, from left, stand at the podium of the eighth annual Steamboat Ice Fishing Tournament on Jan. 5 at Stagecoach Lake. Venzke took home the first-place prize money in trout fishing. (Courtesy photo)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Fishing provides freedom but also comfort in the art of focusing on a rod and a reel.

“I’m four and a half years sober from alcohol and a lot of that is keeping a rod in my hand and keeping focused,” Steamboat Fishing Adventures owner Brady Wettlaufer said. “That lake (Stagecoach Lake) did so much for me, and I can do so much for the park as well by bringing our youth out there and exposing them to what I was exposed to being on the boat or being on ice.”

Wettlaufer has fond memories of going fishing on the lake with his grandfather. The idea of expanding boat or ice fishing to the Steamboat Springs community didn’t come to him until two years ago, when he found out his sister had stage 3 breast cancer.

As owner of the Conoco station in Steamboat, Wettlaufer realized he wanted something more.

“I was shocked to say the least,” Wettlaufer said. “And I realized how my life was just go, go, go and cars, cars, cars, and I realized there was more to life. I started Steamboat Fishing Adventures. There were no charter boats, and we’re not fly fishing. We do traditional, just straight casting.”

Wettlaufer has owned and operated Steamboat Fishing Adventures for two years, and for those two years, he’s taken charge of the annual Ice Fishing Tournament at Stagecoach State Park, which entered its eighth year in January.

On Jan. 5, Stagecoach Lake played host to 400 anglers, including 65 youth competitors. Adults were able to fish for cash prizes, which were handed to the top 10 largest catch totals, and youth competitors competed for non-cash prizes, receiving a complimentary water bottle filled with Eagle Claw fishing tackle.

“We’re the biggest ice fishing tournament in the state of Colorado,” Wettlaufer said. “We blew everyone away because of community involvement and reaching out to sponsors and everyone giving a little. What made it really shine was the kids and the benefit for the kids.”

Awards were given for the largest trout or Northern Pike fish caught, and only fish that were over 15 inches were registered as catches to prevent potential harm to the lake’s fish population. A total number of 154 fish were registered as caught: 149 trout and five pike.

Winners were based on a combined length of two catches. The first-place winner Herman Venzke received a $2,415 cash prize for a combined 40 inches of trout caught, one of them being 23 1/2 inches long. The winner of the pike-fishing competition received $2,000.

Proceeds from the competition and a drawing for prizes from local and national sponsors raised a total of $12,000 for the Friends of Stagecoach State Park and the South Routt Science Club — the two beneficiaries that have remained the same since the tournament’s inception.

“I went and saw the staff and students at South Routt in the schools, and they’re all sitting on their new stools and showing me their incubators for the chicks they’re going to hatch in the spring,” Wettlaufer said. “It made me realize the tournament had done what it set out to do.”

Steamboat Fishing Adventures owner Brady Wettlaufer, left, presents the youth winner Brian Fontana, right, with a first-place certificate. (Courtesy photo)

Wettlaufer said the tournament has never before reached this magnitude, and part of this year’s success is because of its sponsors, which span from Denver to Minnesota.

The tournament also welcomed anglers from all over the country, including California and North Dakota.

Wettlaufer said the tournament not only benefitted a great cause, but it also displayed his original goal in starting his business — showing kids the fun of fishing.

To reach Leah Vann, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @LVann_Sports.

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