Anglers gear up for Grand County’s premier ice fishing contest |

Anglers gear up for Grand County’s premier ice fishing contest

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News

Fishing buddies everywhere are reuniting.

It’s tournament time again ” beer in coolers (no ice needed), tackle, shiners, spawn sacks, minnows, meal worms, night crawlers, salmon eggs, augers, warm clothes … oh yeah, fishing pole.

“Hand warmers are big,” said Richard Crager, who co-owns Granby’s Budget Tackle with wife Margaret.

Attending to a steady stream of license seekers Thursday, the couple was part way into their retail marathon.

For the fifth year in a row for at least two tournaments a year, the Cragers open their Budget Tackle store bright and early Thursday and don’t close again until midnight Saturday.

Sans employees, Richard and Margaret work in shifts.

They take turns getting a bit of shut-eye and barely have time to eat.

“Sometimes we’ll order in Chinese, but I usually don’t like to eat, it makes me sleepy,” Richard said.

Budget Tackle stays open to capture fishing participants traveling through all pre- and pending hours of the tournament.

“Everyone has to register before they go fishing,” Richard said, “This gives them a chance to register and get supplies before sunup.” And those just getting off of work Friday afternoon don’t have to worry about getting to the store by closing time, he said.

The Granby Chamber of Commerce predicts this weekend’s Three Lake’s Fishing Contest, in its 20th year, will attract 1,500 to 2,000 participants. It’s anyone’s guess who’ll be the lucky one subjected to a polygraph this year.

It only took Joe Schmidt from Canõn City a few words before “beer” was mentioned as a reason for sitting outside all day in at-times 12 degree below zero weather.

The other reason was the prize money.

At times, it’s so cold the ice fishing hole keeps freezing over, he said.

“The things you’ll do to win a $1,000.”

He and his fishing posse, Jimmy and Jason Strickland and Michael Mullinex, all from Granby and Grand Lake, were lined up at Budget’s counter Thursday stocking up on supplies. They planned to meet up with Seth Reed, Dave Bender, and Neil Haight later. The group has participated in the tournament 12 consecutive years.

On ice, they’ll have everything they need for the sport of fishing, including the wood stove, generator and a deep fryer for feasting on fresh catches.

“It’s a long ways to go eat sometimes, especially if you’re catching fish,” Schmidt said.

Asked how much barley and hops they’ve packed, Strickland answered, “Oh, about a six pack …” (Friends laugh).

Yeah, right.

Down the road, Steve Brenner of greater Granby and his fishing pals lean against a vehicle packed with all the gear they’ll need.

Examining the truck bed, it’s apparent the old-schoolers have packed much lighter than will the younger crew at Budget.

For chairs, they use a bucket or their snowmobiles. No ice hut here; if in need of wind protection, they simply pull out a canvas tarp from the snowmobile.

“This is Colorado, why be in a tent when it’s this beautiful?” said Rick “Worm” Charbonneau, who’s fished with Brenner since childhood and has entered nearly every Three Lakes Tournament since its inception.

On his Visa card, Charbonneau has a photo of himself holding a 37-inch long catch in 2001. He placed “sixth or seventh,” but refused to accept the $175 prize in order to keep his amateur status, he said.

One advantage of ice fishing is being able to rotate around the hole according to the wind direction, Charbonneau said. In summer, it’s not that easy.

Walt Kirkwood, Brenner’s neighbor, joined the small crew about eight years ago.

A few Three Lakes tournaments back, he flipped his son’s snowmobile.

“You know in the X-Games, those guys who do flips in the air? He was doing that without trying,” Charbonneau said.

From then on, Kirkwood was branded “Flipper.”

Brenner and Charbonneau pointed out the shorter fishing rods they had packed in the truck bed, better for seeing down into the fishing hole.

“In ice fishing, size does matter,” Brenner said.

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail

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