Steamboat Fishing Adventures hosts largest ice fishing tournament at Stagecoach yet |

Steamboat Fishing Adventures hosts largest ice fishing tournament at Stagecoach yet

Groups of ice anglers gather at Stagecoach State Park. The ice on the reservoir is now thick enough to support the sport, though officials recommend always checking the ice thickness before heading out.
Michael Armstrong

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In what might be the largest one-day ice fishing tournament in the state, more than 600 people will gather at Stagecoach Reservoir on Saturday, Jan. 4. They’ll all rely on about 8 inches of ice to keep them on the dry side of the world, while competing to capture the two largest trout.

To win the tournament, which runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., anglers must have the greatest combined length of two trout. Participants are able to go wherever they’d like on the lake, as it’s not a grid tournament.

This is the third winter that Brady Wettlaufer and his business, Steamboat Fishing Adventures, have hosted the tournament, which is in its ninth year. In 2020, the winner will receive about $5,000 in cash, with second through 10th place also receiving money for their efforts. Top performers will also receive gear such as underwater cameras.

“I’m gonna put together free tackle boxes for all our youth anglers,” Wettlaufer said.

The youth category will be separate from the adult competition, with the kids winner receiving a swag bag full of gear from event sponsors, rather than a cash prize.

Wettlaufer expects the winning fish to be about 23 to 24 inches in length. Last year, a combined total of 40 inches won Herman Venzke nearly $2,500 dollars.

“We’re not measuring anything under 15 inches to make sure we’re not killing a lot of fish that we don’t need to,” he said. “Two 15s aren’t gonna win it. Two 16s aren’t gonna win it. It’ll be two fish up in the 20s.”

From left, Herman Venzke, Brady Wettlaufer and Joanna Farley stand at the podium of the eighth annual Steamboat Ice Fishing Tournament on Jan. 5, 2019, at Stagecoach Lake. Venzke took home the first-place prize money in trout fishing. (Courtesy photo)

There is also a pike contest, due to a mandatory harvest of the fish. Whoever secures the most pike will receive a prize valued at $400. Anglers can also compete for the longest pike.

Interested anglers can register at the event or prior at the Stagecoach State Park Office, Yampa River State Park Headquarters or the Colorado Parks and Wildlife office in Steamboat Springs or Denver.

If you go

What: Steamboat Ice Fishing Tournament
When: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 4
Where: Stagecoach Reservoir
Price: $40, register online

Wettlaufer said Stagecoach has about 8 to 9 inches of ice throughout, but he obviously hasn’t seen every part of the lake.

“Use caution though,” Wettlaufer asked of attendees. “No ice is safe ice. You always want to check. Don’t rely on someone else; don’t take someone else’s word for it. Go out there and punch holes where you think you’ll be extra careful.”

All the funds don’t go back into the pockets of the best fishermen, though. A portion of the proceeds raised will go to the South Routt School District and Friends of Stagecoach.

The latter gives back to the lake that hosts the event, helping purchase gear to loan out, such as fat bikes and fishing gear.

So far this season, Wettlaufer’s night fishing expeditions are yielding 15 to 20 fish, with day trips averaging 10 fish. He said the reservoir also recently stocked with about 35,000 fish. While they won’t necessarily be the “winning” fish, there are plenty of fish in the waters at Stagecoach.

“It’s been a wonderful place to fish,” Wettlaufer said.

The Steamboat Fishing Adventures ice fishing tournament is the first on a long list of competitions throughout the winter, so in a way, it commences the season.

“I just went across the entire lake on my snowmobile,” Wettlaufer said. “It’s official: the season kicked off. I went across from Morrison (Creek) to the marina.”

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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