One of the biggest wintertime events in Saskatchewan will soon be taking centre stage as the 15th annual Jackfish Lake Ice Fishing Derby gets underway Feb. 19.
The sparsely populated village of Cochin will be besieged by thousands of fishermen, determined to be the one who catches a fish weighing more than 7.5 pounds. The incentive spurring them on is cold, hard cash to the tune of $100,000 plus a $50,000 shopping spree from Battleford's Furniture.
This year marks the third year a prize is being offered for the largest fish caught.
Two years ago, a fisherman came within four to five ounces of the required weight and last year, another fisherman was about half a pound short of the required weight.
"I'm really hoping someone wins," said organizer Darren Huxley, adding, "If the big fish prize doesn't go, and not a fish is caught, which has never happened, all the prizes from the grand prize to the 15th prize will go regardless."
The catch-and-release derby will take place between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. at Delorme's Beach in the Provincial Park, but according to Huxley, who is also vice-president of the Battleford North Stars, people start lining up to pick their fishing spot (s) as early as 4 a.m. Fishermen are allowed to fish a maximum of two spots, with a charge of $20 for the second hole.
However, since the event is open to both women and children, two spots could become four or five spots equalling additional winning opportunities, said Huxley, adding an individual or family could easily walk away with $150,000.
"When you think about it, that's better odds than you'll get in any lottery."
An entry fee of $60 with a deadline for early bird entries slated for Jan. 31 will allow participants to enter the contest area at 8 a.m. to have their pick of fishing holes, which many view as an advantage. All entries received between Feb. 1 to 19 will be able to enter the contest area at 9:30 a.m. to also choose their fishing spots. For last minute decision makers, the fee is $70 the day of the derby.
"Everybody thinks that if they can get on the ice early, they can pick their holes and get set up early," explained Huxley. All of the holes on the ice are pre-drilled and Huxley does a final tally on the Tuesday before the derby and drills more holes than needed to accommodate late registrants.
The holes are spaced between 20 to 25 feet apart and approximately 150 tagged fish will be released.
"We will go out on the seventeenth, do all our grading by GPS, run all our grids, and on Friday, drill all our holes," Huxley explained.
Bait will be available from Cochin retailers. Fishing licences will be available on site for sale. Seniors and those who are 16 years and younger are not required to have a fishing licence.
More than $200,000 in prizes will be awarded with the grand prize being a Princecraft Pro 164SS with 90 HP Mercury with a four stroke motor and trailer. Second prize is a 14-foot Princecraft Yukon boat with a four stroke motor and trailer; third prize a Princecraft 12-foot boat with a four stroke motor and trailer. Fourth and fifth place prizes are 50-inch Panasonic HD TVs, while the sixth place winner will receive a 1000 watt Yamaha generator and a Minnkota 55PD trolling motor will go to the seventh place winner. Many other prizes will also be available.
"It's probably one of the best kept secrets going," said Huxley, of the derby. "Years ago, we only used to have about 800 to 900 (participants) and now we're up to about 2,400 to 2,500. It's getting bigger and bigger and hopefully, we'll have about 3,000 this year."
The event, which has become one of the biggest ice fishing derbies in Western Canada, attracts people from all across the country from Thunder Bay, Ont. to Abbotsford, B.C., noted Huxley, who encourages families to attend the event and spend an enjoyable day together in the great outdoors.
If the weather is mild, Huxley expects an extra 400 spectators to attend the event. However, if the weather doesn't co-operate, the derby will take place regardless.
Huxley always predicts that the weather will be 10 C and that it will be a beautiful day.
"I've said that three years in a row and I'm sticking to it."
For all the hungry fishermen and spectators, a pancake breakfast will be available for $5 between 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. sponsored by the Battleford's Wildlife Federation, who will also maintain a canteen during the day.
Approximately 100 volunteers, including those from the Wildlife Federation, help make this event a success.
The derby is a major fund-raiser for the Battlefords North Stars. To enter the derby or for more information, call 1- 877-750 - 8055.