Two ounces short: a day on the “Dead Sea”

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Dylan Rohrer, [email protected]

The morning of the Pinedale Boat Club Ice Fishing Derby was upon us, and I sluggishly pull myself out of bed, trying not to notice the 5 a.m. alarm blinking on my phone. I head out into the kitchen, and feel the cold March air biting at the hardwood floors against my feet.

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My father is already awake, sitting at the counter while sipping a cup of coffee.

“This is the year son,” my Dad claims. “This is the year we win some money off this thing!”

My father and I have fished this derby for longer than I can remember; and, while we have had some success in the past (mostly on raffles), we had never truly placed high enough to win some real money.

I sit down next to him, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. “Sure pops, whatever you say,” I mumble reluctantly, still wishing for the warmth of my bed.

Later that morning, my father and I are standing in the check-in line for the tournament, when one of his fishing friends comes to find us.

“How’s it goin’ this morning, fellas?” He asked, turning to spit his chew into the frosty morning snow.

“Good man, just ready to head out there,” Dad replied.

“Well, if you two ever decide you want to move off the same spot you fish EVERY year, you just come find me,” he teased.

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After checking in, we load back up into the truck, and head for the boat ramp.

Here in Wyoming, we are blessed with so many opportunities to get out into nature. For most, standing on a frozen lake for six-plus-hours seems asinine; but, for us Wyomingites, it serves as recreation, a chance to get away. On this very special occasion though, it was more than recreation. It was competition. As my father would say, “There’s money on the line!”.

7 a.m. rolls around, and my watch begins beeping, as it is now finally time to get started fishing.

On any given day on Fremont Lake, especially during the cold ice fishing seasons, there’s often a tranquil quiet that falls over the water. One of my favorite parts of the experience, the quiet, stillness of the environment is enough to bring any mind to peace.

However, during tournament time, the lake grows abuzz with the sound of snow machines, ice augers, and tipsy fisherman.

Day one of the tournament creeps by rather slowly. An endless routine of tying on a jig, adding bait, and jigging until your hand goes numb. No bites? Start over again, tie on, add bait, jig with the other hand until both arms feel as if they’re about to go numb.

Four hours or so into the first day, my father looks up at me, and casually says, “Another great day on the ‘Dead Sea’, eh son?”

Many local fishermen have referred to Fremont as the “Dead Sea,” because of the huge amount of water on the lake, and, frequently, the lack of fish.

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A common saying that often floats around Sublette County is, “90% of the fish live in 10% of the water.” So, it isn’t uncommon to find stacks of fishermen on a single location, separated by miles of open ice.

Day one begins to wrap up, with little success fishing for both my father and I. Reluctantly, my dad looks at me and said, “Should we move tomorrow?”

A difficult question. Pondering our options, I think back to the conversation earlier at the lodge.

“Let’s go join your friend tomorrow, and see if our luck changes,” I said, somewhat confidently.

Day two of the tournament is now upon us, and we find ourselves in a village of ice tents. 7 a.m. once again beeps on my watch, and the sounds of drag being pulled from reels reverberates around the ice tent village.

As the day progresses, the fishermen around us slowly begin to break free of their tents, stretching their legs. Soon, sounds of inebriated men and women fill my ears.

Headed into the final hours of the derby, my dad said to me, “Let’s head to some shallower water, target some different fish, and maybe we’ll get lucky.”

“Thank goodness, let’s do it,” I said, grateful to finally put some space between me and the smell of snow machine fuel.

We find a quiet spot near the shore, and drill a few holes. After setting our ice tent over the holes, we settle in for the last few hours of fishing.

Dad decides to place a dead bait (a single bait fish on a hook on the bottom) a few yards from the tent, hopeful we will pick up a bruiser.

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With only about two hours left in the derby, one of Dad’s good friends, and a member of the working derby staff, Rolando, finds our tent and brings Dad a Budweiser.

I decide to step out of the tent and grab some air as Dad shows Rolando the “excitement” of looking down the ice hole, and being able to see the bottom.

Just then, I hear Rolando holler to Dad, “WHAT IS THAT!?” I sprint to the tent, just in time to catch a glimpse of a large tailfin leaving the hole.

Rolando spotted a stud.

Eagerly, my dad drops his bait back into the hole, while I continue to stand outside, eyes closed, enjoying the sun.

Suddenly, I hear the drag of the dead bait pole begin to hiss. I check the line, and sure enough, there is a fish on the other end. I call Rolando and Dad over, excitement erupting on all of our faces.

“Set the hook!” Dad exclaimed.

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Fighting the fish was no easy task. It took nearly ten minutes to get him to the hole, before he even realized he was hooked, and began to make another run. Dad and I take turns fighting him, our arms tired from the battle.

Finally, we pull the beast from the hole. It is easily the largest fish I have ever caught on Fremont, and on the final hours of the derby to boot!

Hastily, we fire up the snow machine and race to the boat dock for turn in. My mother and sister, who also worked on derby staff, see us coming up the hill and sprint down to meet us, their faces ecstatic at the catch in our hands.

The judge takes the fish, and he ends up weighing in at 16 pounds, 8 ounces. Enough for first place! Dad and I cheer, as this were the first time in our 15 or so years of fishing the derby that we have placed in first.

The next and final hour creeps by excruciatingly slow. I anxiously await the end of the derby, envying the Rohrer last name in the first-place spot on the board.

Around 1:45, about 15 minutes before the end of the derby, my heart stops as I watch another young man, about my age, bring a large lake trout to the scale. I stand within earshot, and hear the words, “16 pounds, 10 ounces.”

My heart drops. Only 15 minutes left in the derby, and pushed out by a mere two ounces.

Dad and I receive our second place, $500 check. Although we are beyond happy to be on the board at all, we can’t help but feel disappointed at the outcome.

Oh well, I guess there’s always next time, “Dead Sea.”

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