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Three Lakes: Ice fishing takes a village

Zach Szloboda pulls up the auger after punching a hole in the ice Friday on Lake Granby during the Three Lakes Ice Fishing Contest.
Eli Pace / epace@skyhinews.com

Hot coffee and warm chili lured anglers away from their fishing holes and into the hospitality tent Friday at the Three Lakes Ice Fishing Contest, the hum of snowmobiles never far from earshot.

Behind a propane stove inside the tent, Chris Meister kept busy feeding hungry anglers. He had gone through his ninth large can of chili with over an hour before the lunchtime rush would be over.

The chili was premade but hugely popular among the fishermen and fisherwomen, who found the tent, complete with carpeting and a heater, a nice addition and a rare luxury for an ice fishing contest.

Put on by the Granby Chamber of Commerce, the Three Lakes Ice Fishing Contest spans Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake and breaks down into three, one-day contests.

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The contest itself has existed for decades now, but the village on Lake Granby was relatively new with this being only its second year. The village comes as a product of the U.S. Ice Fishing Association, which has a website at usifa.org detailing various ice fishing events around the country.

In the hospitality tent, fisherman, fisherwomen and their families compared notes on their days before heading back out, bowls empty and tummies full.

The temporary “village” on Lake Granby was really a series of tents connected by platforms serving as sidewalks and a fire pit in the middle. It also featured some games like cornhole and sled rides pulled by a yak for children. In addition to the hospitality tent, there was a poker tent, merchandise for sale and a handful of other vendors pedaling their products.

“I can see (the village) growing and being an integral part of the tournament going forward,” said Ali Williams, interim executive director of the Granby Chamber.

One of the more peculiarly named businesses on display this weekend was probably Cougar Baits. After turning his hobby of making ice fishing lures into a second job this fall, Max Kaufmann doesn’t have a website up yet. Instead, he’s relying on word of mouth and events like the ice fishing contest to sell lures, and he welcomed the opportunity to build his new brand.

“I’ve been fishing my entire life,” Kaufmann said, explaining how he hopes to cash in on his new lure business.

According to Williams, the tournament received over 1,200 registrations last year across all three days. Based on the stack of paperwork from the entry forms this go-round, there will be even more this year. Williams added that the contest drew more than 100 children last year, and estimates put this year’s number well over that figure too.

Perhaps the youngest of them was two-month-old Bella, who came into the hospitality tent on Friday strapped to her mom, Larisa Martin, via a child carrier. The tournament draws a wide variety of anglers, putting a number of families beside seasoned fishermen and women. One tagged fish worth $1,000 was caught. The biggest fish measured 36 inches.

“We’ve had a ton of positive feedback that this was the best year yet,” Williams said, adding that the kickoff party and award ceremonies at River Run RV Resort were extremely well received.

So too were the increased prize packages, including a brand new Ski Doo snowmobile, and Williams believes that helped attract more people and hype to the contest this year. Perhaps it’s fitting the snowmobile went to a family from Hot Sulphur Springs.

“We’re just so pleased with the outcome,” Williams said of the fishing contest. “We had so much fun.”

And she wasn’t the only one. As 70-year-old Gary Merklin spilled out of the hospitality tent extremely complimentary of the bowl of chili he had in hand, his only complaint was that he didn’t make it himself.

Fishing the contest with his daughter and three grandchildren, Merklin took a moment to reflect on what really draws people to the ice.

“Those little moments are what you cherish the most,” he said. “You don’t think, like a cup of coffee on the ice is something you’re going to remember 90 years from now, but it’s that moment you’re out with your family, you’re out with who you care about. It’s just the little things that my children have already learned to pick up and appreciate. I get thank yous all the time.”


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