After a gap year, the Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby celebrates four decades
For more than four decades, anglers from near and far have converged on the Platte Valley for the annual Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby.
One of the oldest and longest running events of its kind in Wyoming, the Saratoga/Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce (S/PVCC) is hosting the 40th annual event this year.
“Knowing that it’s in its 40th year, that’s what makes it exciting,” said Amanda Knotwell, S/PVCC CEO. “Once we finish this, what’s next? The 50th. We work towards that next decade of keeping these older traditions going.”
Started in 1982 by then Chamber CEO Chuck Box, the Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby has continued on nearly uninterrupted for 42 years. In all that time, there were only two times the event was unable to be held. Once in 1997 and again in 2023, both due to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) “killing” the lake.
The most recent came following the discovery of Yellow Perch, an invasive species, in Saratoga Lake. During the 39th Annual Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby, in 2022, a number of anglers were catching the fish. This posed a problem for the WGFD as Saratoga Lake is a trout fishery maintained by the state department. The eventual action was to apply rotenone, a piscicide, to the lake and eliminate all the fish.
“I tried to stay in contact with the game and fish throughout this whole process,” said Knotwell. “From my derby in 2022 to the whole planning of the rotenone treatment to the plan for restocking.”
In spring 2023, the WGFD restocked Saratoga Lake with Rainbow Trout, Tiger Trout and Brown Trout once it was determined that all the Yellow Perch—and all other fish—had been killed by the rotenone. As of now, said Knotwell, there are over 20,000 trout in the lake. Additionally, the trout are not having to compete with Yellow Perch or suckers for sustenance. This means larger and healthier fish.
“I was caught while I was out and about in town and this individual informed me that this is the best fishing that they have ever had out at the lake,” said Knotwell. “I had someone call me and say ‘I just caught a 21 incher.’”
While some larger, more mature trout have been introduced into the lake, Knotwell said the first ones were “stockers” or smaller fish which have since matured in the body of water. Since the initial restocking, WGFD has conducted a few more stockings including as recently as December with 500 mature Rainbow Trout.
Knotwell said in September 2023 she went out with the state department as they conducted a netting operation on Saratoga Lake. At that time, not only were there not any Yellow Perch but there weren’t any sucker fish either. The lack of suckers means that, at least for this year, there won’t be a sucker skirmish which was introduced in 2018.
“Silver Spur Outfitters has teamed up with us since we started that,” said Knotwell. “They reached out this year and I said ‘I’d like to put your donation towards something else because there should not be a sucker skirmish this year.’ That was started so that people wouldn’t throw them (suckers) back, so we could get those suckers out of there.”
Along with the absence of the sucker skirmish, another change this year will be a drop in the minimum length of qualifying trout. The Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby uses both length and girth for the total size of a fish and the minimum qualifying length has been 14 inches. This year, it will be 12 inches.
According to Knotwell, that drop in length was due to the S/PVCC being unsure whether the restocked trout would be up to size by the derby. With the recent information that trout exceeding 20 inches have been caught, Knotwell said anglers might want to think twice before handing in one that is 12 inches.
While there have been no other changes to the rules, Knotwell has been receiving calls about the no live bait rule. This rule has been in place since 1982 as Saratoga Lake is one of several WGFD managed fisheries which doesn’t allow live bait. The Chamber CEO said that rule doesn’t apply to worms, but to bait fish such as minnows.
As in year’s past, the S/PVCC will be open until 8 pm on January 19 for in-person registration. So too, this year, will be Medicine Bow Anglers—formerly Hack’s Tackle—at 407 N. 1st Street. The Country Store and Koyoty Sports will also be taking registration up until 5 pm January 19.
In addition to registration, fishing licenses can be purchased at The Country Store and Koyoty Sports, and Medicine Bow Anglers will also sell fishing licenses that Friday. Additional fishing gear can also be purchased at these locations.