A 26-year tradition is set to continue this year, giving anglers the chance to ring in the New Year by vying for the largest fish in Lake Hattie.
The Laramie Plains Lions Club Lake Hattie Ice Fishing Derby is scheduled for the first weekend of 2018. Derby hours are 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Jan. 5 and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Jan. 6 at the lake, which sits about 20 miles west of Laramie near the base of Sheep Mountain.
The largest fish of the derby wins $1,500, followed by $1,000, $350, $200 and $100. The smallest fish wins $25. Size is determined by measuring the length and girth, with weight used as a tie-breaker.
Anglers also have the chance to win $2,000 in instant cash by snagging a tagged fish, raising the stakes even more.
“We normally have about 200-250 people come out and probably about 40 youth to try their luck at catching the biggest fish and winning some prize money from us,” said organizer Lew Lyon.
In the youth division, the largest fish wins $150 and a trophy, followed by $100, $50 and $25, with the smallest fish also worth $25.
Tickets are $35 for adults and $5 for youth accompanied by a participating angler. Tickets are available at West Laramie Fly Store, 1657 Snowy Range Rd. A fishing license for 2019 is required.
The derby is the largest fundraiser of the year for Laramie Plains Lions Club, which uses proceeds to support a variety of programs.
“We appreciate all the support the community gives us,” Lyon said.
The club donates money to the Laramie Downtown Clinic and the Albany County Fair, with those proceeds used to buy prizes for youth winners. The club also gives money to a local group that helps people afford eye exams and glasses.
On a statewide level, the club supports a camp near Casper and the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank in Aurora, Colorado, which facilitates eye tissue transplants. The bank is supported by Lions clubs across Wyoming and Colorado, and it benefits patients around the world.
“They collect and distribute corneas,” he said.
As of mid-December, Lake Hattie had ice about five inches thick and was safe enough for anglers. Lyon said the derby has never suffered from a lack of ice since it has been scheduled for the first full weekend in January.
“There are people out there fishing on the ice right now,” he said.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department advises anglers to be very careful when venturing onto ice. It should be at least four inches thick if clear or twice that if cloudy or white.
Clear ice is stronger than cloudy or white ice, which has thawed and refrozen and isn’t always stable. Ice can also be white from air bubbles or frozen snow, which makes it much weaker.
Anglers should check the thickness of the ice every 100-150 feet and avoid fissures or significant cracks.
Fluctuating water levels and wind can create dangerous ice conditions, and anglers should scout their lake for overflow, wet areas or open water. Anglers can also call a regional Game and Fish office for information about conditions.
Game and Fish advises against driving motorized vehicles onto lakes or ice fishing on rivers or moving water, even if they have frozen over.
Anglers should never fish alone and should always wear a personal floatation device and carry an ice pick. They should pack a change of clothes and hot liquids in case of an accident.
“Anglers should always be prepared in the event that they would fall through, and have adequate precautions to make sure they don’t fall though the ice,” Lyon said.
Lake Hattie is stocked annually by Game and Fish, and anglers will find yellow perch, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, brown trout and kokanee salmon.
The lake is included in a special ice fishing provision, which allows anglers to fish with up to six lines, as long as they are attended.
Lyon, who has been involved with the derby since its inception, said his favorite part is seeing the excitement of the young anglers.
“Those kids are always great to watch as they see how large a fish they have,” he said. “For some of them, it’s the first fish they’ve ever caught.”