Fest, but no fish

Third straight skunking prompts change

MOLSON – The fish were biting at Sidley and Molson Lakes. Two weeks ago, anyway.

By the time the Northwest Ice Fishing Festival commenced Saturday, Feb. 15, the 5,000 or so Rainbow Trout that had been planted and nurtured through the winter had done their vanishing act for the third straight year, leaving competitors in the fishing derby bereft of luck and fish.

“They were being caught into late January,” said Robin Stice, who coordinated the event. “We had a biologist here to check things and he caught one in less than a half an hour. People have been catching fish all along. They were averaging about 15 inches.”

A recent shrimp hatch received the brunt of the blame as the fish were apparently gorged and had no interest in what those attempting to catch the fish had to offer. There were a number of reports of the small shrimp floating up into the ice holes, however.

With that in mind, the festival committee decided that three years of bad luck was enough. Next year’s event will be held Jan. 17 – Martin Luther King Day weekend – in order to precede the shrimp hatching.

Stice presented the idea to the post-derby crowd that gathered in the Molson Grange Hall for prizes and raffle drawings and was met with boisterous approval from the frustrated fishing crowd.

“The weather will be colder,” Stice said. “But these are people who fish on the ice in the winter. They’ll probably be ready for it.”

More than fishing

The other casualty of the weekend were the dog sled demonstrations planned by the Rev. Gary Forgey due to the lack of snow. However, the rest of the weekend’s activities were well attended, beginning with Tim Behrens performing “A Fine And Pleasant Misery” on Friday evening.

Saturday morning, the grange hall hosted its annual pancake breakfast and served more than 225 meals.

Visitors kept eating throughout the day, also buying 100 lunches from Sitzmark Ski Area volunteers. With the local ski hill unable to open this year due to a lack of snow, the organization is dependent on fundraisers and donations to maintain its insurance despite the lack of income.

The Arts and Crafts Fair featured a huge array of colorful quilts and other handmade items. Vendors had water color pictures, drawings, beautiful pressed flower arrangements, embroidered home items, hats, books,breads and deserts, antler art and other gift items.

For the first time, the festival featured Pinewood Derby racing, in the tradition of the annual Cub Scout competition. Using an old, “retired” track, divisions of kids and the young at heart wanting to relive their Pinewood Derby days of yore competed both for speed and appearance, winning gift certificates for their efforts.

“A big part of the weekend is the culture, the history and adventure,” Stice said. “A lot of the people I talk to are happy because their family comes home for the three day weekend. It gets people outside having fun. And our arts and crafts fair this year was our best ever.”

Fishing in past years has been better, but Stice said the purpose of the festival is as much cultural as anything.

Stice said she was inspired by an “older gentlemen” that suggested to the Okanogan County Tourism Council years ago that suggested that Sidley Lake was the best place in the region for an ice fishing festival.

“We put it off for a couple of years,” she said. “He kind of disappeared but I never let go of the idea. I grew up ice fishing in Molson and thought, our culture is eroding. Unless we start doing stuff to preserve it, it will go away faster.”

The three-day weekend provides the funding to hire an intern at the Oroville Visitors Center and the Sidley Lake Aerator Project. But other organizations benefit from the event as well.

“All these things from my childhood come together to make a great event,” Stice said. “The arts and crafts fair. Of course you have to have the Molson Grange and the pancake breakfast. It gives them a chance to have a fundraiser as well. Sitzmark also needed a way to make money – they are largely supported by donations as a non-profit club. We did a raffle and involved businesses in Oroville, Tonasket and beyond.”

 Plenty of help

“We conduct this professionally,” Stice said. We have a lot of people who participated in the coordination. This year Clyde and Sandy Andrews of the Camaray did the bulk of the work. They’re great to work with; have a great attitude and they’re a couple of workhorses. Vickie Hart helps with registration and her husband is on the board. Sandy Andrews is in charge of registration and is the raffle coordinator.”

Then, of course, were to key personnel who ended up with little to do: fish judge Larry Smith, who ended up with no fish to weight; and Len Firpo, who acted as safety officer.

“Larry required training for this,” Stice said. “And Larry, I’m 100 percent confident in his abilities because we’ve been on ski patrol at Sitzmark together and I’ve seen him in action.”

She also credited Mike Tibbs for donating Sani-cans for the weekend; The Okanogan County Road Crew and Dave Hilstad for clearing out extra space for parking; MaryLou Kriner for taking charge of the arts and crafts fair; her husband Patrick for running the aerator through the winter to keep the lake oxygenated; and the Oroville Chamber board, which put the event on.

The lack of fish was a bit of a downer, but Stice said it wasn’t, in the end, what she was after, despite the steps taken to remedy that situation.

“It really warms my heart to see people enjoying themselves outside,” she said. “To be outside, this day and age, to get unplugged and get kids away from their cell phones and video games, and get adults away from the phones and Blackberries.

“My biggest thing is seeing people have fun, joking around with each other, parents with their kids.”

 

 Prize Winners – Drawings of Fishing Registrations

Grand Prize: $500 Hughes Dept. Store Cert. to Carl Bjelland

1st Place $50 Akins Certificate and $25 Rancho Chico Cert. and Big R Fishing Pole to Mark Scholla ($110 value)

2nd Place $50 Akins Harvest Foods Certificate and Eden Valley Natural Beef basket to Paul Fontaine (value $90)

3rd Place $50 Akins Certificate Mike Sheldon

Youth – 1st Place Pole with tackle, sleeping bag and Tackle box — from Mary Lou’s Gifts to Cameron Jones (value $80)

Youth – 2nd Place Pole w/tackle – Mary Lou’s Gifts, Kid pillow, flashlight,and Magnifier – from Lee Frank’s to Ben Scheidemantle

Youth – 3rd Place Tackle kit and games From Mary Lou’s to Indira Roraback

Smallest Fish: $35 Certificate to Hometown From Chuck Spieth to Karen Buchanan

Oldest Fisherman: Gift certificate to Don Beanblossom

Youngest Fisherman: Puzzles – from Mary Lou’s Gifts to Indira Roraback

Grand Raffle Prize – 2 Night Stay from Veranda Beach to Dick Garner ($450 value)

Special Drawing: The Northwest Ice Fishing Committee realized the fishing was disappointing and to show consideration for outstanding sportsmanship decided to conduct two drawings of $50 gift certificates donated by Akins Harvest Foods. All fishing registrations went into the pot for the Wild Card Draws. The winners were Laura Robinson and Jerry Milholland.

Gold Level Sponsors: Kinross, Camaray Motel, Hughes Dept Store, Pastime Bar & Grill and Akins Harvest Foods

Silver Level Sponsors: Seven P Solutions and Mary Lou’s Gifts & More.

About Brent Baker

Brent is a reporter for the Gazette-Tribune. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent started work at the G-T in 2011.

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