It's a family affair

Michael 'Hack' Patterson reflects on the Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby

 

Connie Patterson

Michael "Hack" Patterson smiles with pride over the cooler that his granddaughter, Alysia Henderson, painted for him. Patterson said that Henderson sanded down the stock cooler and covered it with Bondo in preparation for the striking paint job.

Michael Patterson (you probably know him as 'Hack') has participated in every Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby. That's more than 30 derbies since the first one in 1983. "I can't imagine missing one or where I would have been or why. At least last year I told them I have been," Patterson said.

Patterson is also the proprietor of Hack's Tackle & Outfitters on 1st Street just south of the bridge, a business he took full-time in 1993. He doesn't let work get in the way of the derby though. "I've always fished the derby. I've always said that if I can't do the things I really enjoy, then I'm not doing this. And the derby is one of them," Patterson said manning the counter at his store.

Winner, winner,

chicken dinner

Patterson has won money several times at the derby catching hourly winners and he even took second place one year. The family has gotten in on the action too. Three years ago his daughter caught the first tagged fish and his granddaughter caught the second tagged fish about an hour later.


As with all fishermen Patterson has a story about the one that got away:

"Four years ago, my granddaughter was with me and I had the winner. I mean, hands down. This fish was a monster. He was probably 28 inches, probably nine pounds, a brown trout. My granddaughter calls him Billy Big-Mouth Brown. I had him through the hole once, let him get down again. I tried to gaff him and couldn't even get a gaff in the (expletive deleted). I tried like hell and I just had him hooked in the lip and he got in the hole and I lost him. It just makes me sick sometimes when I think about it. He would have won multiple derbies."

That same year Patterson said he had the winning fish anyway, until about 11 a.m. on the last day when another local pulled a bigger fish.

Pondering on what it would mean to win the derby Patterson said, "If I won it one time, I might just quit."

Winning is one thing, but family is where it's at

"Just the camaraderie of being with my family is probably the best," Patterson said about his years fishing at the Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby, adding, "Typically my crew is myself, my daughter Lori, my granddaughter Alysia and my brother George."

Lori and Alysia will share Hack's hut at the derby this year, continuing a decade-plus tradition. Patterson is particularly boastful of Alysia. He noted that the 21 year-old will graduate from the University of Wyoming in the spring after finishing a full-ride scholarship. Alysia has followed through with her love of the outdoors by working for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Patterson laughs about a photo he has of Alysia by the sign for the tackle shop in her red shirt, seemingly finding some irony in the picture.

It is not just Alysia that Patterson adores. He has six grandchildren and said, "I love all my grandkids. I've got a 12-year-old grandson that just killed his first elk this year."

Patterson also has twin sons, Pat and Paul, who worked as fishing guides in their teenage years before joining the military. Pat just retired from 20 years in the Army and is going to start working at the tackle shop.

Hack's tips for winning

An avid fisherman of the Upper North Platte Valley since his childhood, Patterson has a wealth of experience and advice to share with both locals and tourists about the North Platte drainage including ice fishing.

He says there are no secrets to ice fishing. Any rod and reel will work, or even a set line. You need a way to get through the ice, something as simple as a digging bar will work. The final components are jigs and meal worms.

As any angler knows, the basics will do, but knowing the right lure goes a long way. Patterson's number one suggestion - An olive head jig.

Pulling a box of jigs from his counter Patterson said, "This guy right here, what a stinkin' killer ... That guy right there has damn sure won more money and caught more fish than any other jig, probably combined."

According to Patterson you can't buy an olive colored jig head. "So if you want an olive jig head you better sit down and paint them yourself or else go to Hack," Patterson said also advising that the olive jig works "everywhere and for everything." The olive color can mimic many things in this area, including, scuds, damsel nymphs and other prey species trout favor.

Barometric pressure has a lot to do with when fish bite and don't bite. This means a person keeping an eye on weather changes can get a better idea of when the fish will be biting.

If you see fish in your hole and they are not biting, switch things up.

Patterson explains it like this, "I've messed with the same fish over and over and over until 'Bam!' One time I had one big old brook trout and he'd come in and he'd look and he'd turn around and leave. You'd drop something else down the hole he'd come in and look and turn around and leave. Of all the stupid things to put down the hole I put a Panther Martin on there so I had some movement and 'Bam, Bam!'"

According to Patterson Saratoga Lake averages 8 to 12 feet with the deepest place being 18 feet in the Sandy Beach area. This is something to think about when you put your hut on the ice and cut your holes, but maybe not too much. "The winning fish could come from anywhere. He could from a foot of water to 18 feet," Patterson advised, adding, "Most of these fish come in and cruise those shorelines in early morning and the evening and they have a tendency to move to the deeper water during the day."

Patterson said he does not move with the fish, opting to put his huts over about six feet of water and try to catch the fish coming to and from the shore.

If you come to the Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby this weekend, and you take Patterson's advice, track him down at his hut and say thanks. You'll be able to find him sitting with his custom cooler, a big smile and loving eyes for his family.

 

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