The Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby, an enduring tradition for over four decades, returns this year under the auspices of the Saratoga/Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce (S/PVCC). This milestone event, one of Wyoming’s oldest and longest-running ice fishing gatherings, is set to celebrate its 40th annual occurrence.
Amanda Knotwell, CEO of S/PVCC, expressed her excitement, stating, “Knowing that it’s in its 40th year, that’s what makes it exciting. Once we finish this, what’s next? The 50th. We work towards that next decade of keeping these older traditions going.”
Established in 1982 by then Chamber CEO Chuck Box, the Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby has persevered with nearly uninterrupted success, save for two instances in 1997 and 2023. The interruptions were due to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s (WGFD) intervention, responding to the discovery of Yellow Perch, an invasive species, in Saratoga Lake.
Following the 39th Annual Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby in 2022, where anglers encountered Yellow Perch, the WGFD took action by applying rotenone, a piscicide, to eliminate all fish in the lake. Knotwell, involved in the entire process, from the 2022 derby to the rotenone treatment and subsequent restocking plan, emphasized the collaborative efforts.
In spring 2023, after the successful eradication of Yellow Perch, the WGFD restocked Saratoga Lake with Rainbow Trout, Tiger Trout, and Brown Trout. Knotwell shared that the lake now hosts over 20,000 trout, free from competition with Yellow Perch and suckers, resulting in larger and healthier fish.
The absence of Yellow Perch and suckers has led to exceptional fishing experiences, with reports of anglers catching substantial trout. Knotwell highlighted the positive feedback, stating, “I had someone call me and say ‘I just caught a 21 incher.'”
As the Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby returns for its 40th edition, notable changes include the elimination of the sucker skirmish and a reduction in the minimum qualifying length for trout from 14 to 12 inches. Knotwell explained that this adjustment was made due to uncertainties about the restocked trout reaching the required size by the derby.
While other rules remain unchanged, queries have arisen regarding the no live bait rule, a regulation in place since 1982. Knotwell clarified that this rule pertains to live bait fish, not worms, emphasizing the prohibition of bait fish like minnows.
In-person registration for the derby is available until 8 pm on January 19 at S/PVCC and Medicine Bow Anglers, formerly Hack’s Tackle. Fishing licenses can be purchased at various locations, including The Country Store, Koyoty Sports, and Medicine Bow Anglers. The Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby continues to be a cherished event, embodying decades of angling tradition in the Platte Valley.