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Fishing derby contestants reel in the big ones
February 14, 2020

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The sun broke through a few patches of clouds Saturday afternoon as families from Pierce County and beyond drove onto frozen Sand Lake for the Rugby Eagles' 25th Almost Annual Fishing Derby.

"It's nice out," said participant Wayne Gorneau as he weighed a hefty northern pike for the competition. "I live up by the Peace Gardens. We've been coming down (for the tournament) a few years in a row."

Gorneau said he was at the lake with "my kids and a friend of mine and my brother. We try to hit all the tournaments."

Temperatures stayed relatively mild by North Dakota ice fishing standards. Saturday's high was 24 degrees, but the sunshine made the air feel warmer. Children scampered to the judging area holding wriggling perch. Family dogs played in the snow alongside fishing huts.

Rugby dentist Paul Niemi told the Tribune the fishing derby has been a Rugby Eagles tradition since 1992.

"I was president of the club that year, and everyone was trying to do a project," Niemi said. "This is what I started doing. We've had more people than this here before. There was a year we had 400 people out here. Today there's about 300, maybe a little more."

Niemi added, "We call it the 'almost annual' derby because we had it out at Balta Dam for a few years, and one year, the ice conditions weren't good enough. One year, we got snowed out and another year, we just didn't hold it."

"We started it strictly as an adult tournament," Niemi noted. "About 20 years ago, we started adding the children's tournament into it. That's kind of helped to sustain it."

The competition had one division for children and one for adults. Prizes were awarded in two categories - one for perch and one for northern pike.

Niemi said children paid a $5 entrance fee for their competition while adults paid $20.

Niemi said 100 children entered the derby. Cash prizes of $125 went to first-place winners in each category, $75 prizes went to second-place winners and third-place winners received $50.

"We have a hundred kids today, so there's $500 in a pool, and we split that up and give it to the winners," Niemi said.

"Then," Niemi added, "We have a bunch of door prizes that we give away to the kids, too. Every kid gets a door prize and they've got pop. They get certificates when they weigh a fish. They'll get a pizza from (Rugby Envision C-Store) or a Dairy Queen certificate."

Niemi turned to Adella Maus, who struggled to control a perch determined to leap out of her hands. "Almost three pounds! That's a big fish there," he said with a smile.

"I'm scared of fish!" Maus giggled as the perch slipped from her grasp.

Youngsters seemed to have better luck than adults catching big fish on Saturday.

In the 18 and under division, Logan Harmel took first place with his 9.8-ounce perch. Second prize went to Caleb Broe's 7.8-ounce catch. Alton Hackel took third prize with his 5.7-ounce entry.

In the over 18 division, Sheldon Thompson's 8.5 ounce perch took first place. Eric Wangler's 7.2-ounce perch came in second, and Cheyene Rode's 7.0 ounce perch took third place.

In the northern pike category, Cole Vietz-Reile took first place with his 6 pound, 1 ounce catch. Vietz-Reile, who plays hockey with the Bottineau-Rugby Braves, was no stranger to the ice. "I'm here with my family," he said. "We're in different groups here, and we try different sides (of the lake)."

Ashton Smith took second place with his 4 pound, 3 ounce catch, while Kory Vetsch took third place with his 3 pound, 15 ounce pike.

Prizes for northern pike in the over 18 category went to Andew Oksendahl, first place, with a 4 pound, 15 ounce catch; Brian Thiel, second place with a 3 pound, 15 ounce pike, and Taylor Harmel with a 3 pound 13 ounce pike for third place.

Prizes of $200 for first place, $125 for second place and $75 for third place went to adult winners. Participants also received raffle entries to win ice houses, ice augers and depth finders. Raffle winners were announced at a meatball supper held at the Eagles Club Saturday evening.

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