In Montana ice fishing is enjoyed by anglers of all ages on many lakes all over the state. It is a fun activity for families and friends. If the kids get bored they can play on the hard water, like kids do, and the more serious anglers can stare down their ice hole as they try to jig up a fish. Another way to enjoy ice fishing is to enter an ice fishing tournament.
This winter there are 26 ice fishing contest that were approved by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, with the majority of them scheduled to take place in Northwest Montana. Most of these tournaments focus on perch with trout not far behind. One tournament that has been taking place in Southwest Montana awards anglers with a chance to qualify to fish in a national ice tournament. It’s put on by North American Ice Fishing Circuit (NAIFC) and had been scheduled every year for the past 5 years on Hebgen Lake near West Yellowstone.
This year the Hebgen Lake qualifier took place on Sunday January 17. 72- two person teams paid $250 to enter in this year’s tournament and the anglers come from all over the U.S. In all 10 states were represented at this year’s event. The team of Shane Hofstad, Alaska and Brent Cummings, Utah topped the other 71 teams with their 6 Rainbow trout bag tipped the scales at 13.81 pounds netting the pair $4,400.00. Second place went to a Montana team, Dan Zitto from Belgrade, and Zack Dekay from Deer Lodge with a 12.96 pound bag.
As you might imagine Hofstad is no stranger to the sport of ice fishing and probably doesn’t have a very hard time finding ice angling opportunities in Alaska but he was impressed with Hebgen Lake,”Hebgen is a great fishery” he said . Pre fishing the day before the tournament the bite was slow but when it counted the bite turned on, “Saturday’s pre-fishing had a couple of weather fronts move through but Sunday the bite was on”, added Hofstad, “Even with the 14-18 inches of snow that fell Saturday night we had a shot at 19 rainbows to get our 6.” Zito and Dekay fished to win the tournament but really didn’t think with their full time jobs they could take the time to fish the National Championship later this year, “We are happy we finished second but we don’t know if we can make it to the finals but were are going to try”.
Teams that finish in the top-ten at any of the NAIFC Qualifiers earn an automatic invitation to the NAIFC National Championship to be held in December on a frozen lake in Minnesota. The NAIFC paid 14 places a total of $10,080.00 cash, along with $1,000.00 worth of product prizes. Jack Baker of the NAIFC who describes his duties as the chief bottle washer but is actually the Tournament Director has been impressed with the fishing and the folks from West Yellowstone over the years “People think of West Yellowstone MT as snowmobile country but deep down this is a fishing community to me it seems like everybody fishes here”. So whether you ice fish for fun or for cash there is one thing for sure. In Montana this time of the year hard water is not hard to find.
ICE FISHING CONTESTS THAT YOU CAN STILL ENTER IN MONTANA:
Northwest Montana Region 1
Jan. 30-31 – Fisher River Valley Winter Fishing Derby, Thompson Lakes
Feb. 1-28 – Perch Pounder, 13th annual, all Region 1 waterbodies
Feb. 6 – Snappy’s Lake Mary Family Derby, 16th annual, Lake Mary Ronan
Feb. 13 – Ryan Wagner Memorial Ice Fishing Derby, Murphy Lake
Feb. 13-14 – McGregor Lake Annual Fishing Derby, McGregor Lake
Feb. 20 – Perch Assault, Middle Thompson Lake
Feb. 21 – Ice Duels Montana, Echo Lake
Feb. 27 – Canyon Kids Christmas Fund Derby, Lion Lake
March 5 – Perch Assault, Lake Mary Ronan
March 12-13 – Bitterroot Bash, 5th Annual, Bitterroot Lake
South Central Montana, Region 3
Jan. 30 – Stan Shafer Memorial Ice Fishing Derby, Clark Canyon Reservoir
Northeastern Montana, Region 6
Jan. 30 – Murph’s 10th Annual Memorial Ice Fishing Tournament, Nelson Reservoir
Jan. 30-31 – Fresno Ice Derby, 5th Annual, Fresno Reservoir
Feb. 20 – 19th annual Glasgow Chamber Ice Fishing Derby, Fort Peck/Marina Bay
Feb. 20 – Hell Creek Ice Fishing Tournament, Fort Peck/Hell Creek Bay
(Written by the Captain – aka Mark Ward)