Landing a twelve pound lake trout is a challenging experience in the middle of the summer in Alaska, but bringing up a monster trout of that size through an 8 inch hole in the ice in the middle of winter is a fish tale indeed. And it's the story of Jeannie Blakley who caught the biggest fish in this year's Soldotna Trustworthy Hardware's 12th Annual Ice Fishing Derby, "She caught it on a regular little ice fishing rod and you know it was a job getting that fish through that hole, but brought in quite a few big fish this year and this is the second largest fish ever caught in the history of our derby," said Scott Miller, of Soldotna Hardware & Fishing. The Miller family started the derby to encourage families and kids to get out and experience the local wonders of winter in Alaska and the event has grown each year with nearly 1,000 ice fishers participating and registering their catches. "We had quite a derby. The numbers were incredible with just under 1,000 people signing up with about 300 to 400 of those being kids which really pleased us and they brought about 400 fish with a pretty even split between the kids and the adults and nice big fish this year in all categories which made just a great derby," said Miller.
According to Miller this year's Derby was up in all categories with the exception of pike, which were down in size and number, "And that was good news, five years ago we had 167 pike entered in the Derby and quite a few 14-15 pounders back then, but this year the pike count was under 20 and the largest one was 8 pounds with most of them in the 1-3 pound range so we're seeing the results of the good job that Fish & Game is doing in getting rid of them and that's encouraging and most likely why we saw the increase in number and size of the other species this year," explained Miller.
In the employee division Scott's daughter Haley took first place with her 1.49lb Rainbow caught at Scout Lake, "My kids are my fishing buddies and they did a good job this year," said Scott. "It was pretty cool and I'll be out there again next year to defend my title," said Haley. Ice Angler Tom Krueger caught the largest rainbow in the open division with the official weight being 5.46 lbs, "I bought one of those little Ugly Sticks here with thin little line and then hiked way back in on Swanson River Rd. to a little lake and when I hooked onto this fish I'll tell you what I finally had to fall to me knees because it kept spooling me and I thought for sure it was going to break my line and I prayed to God for help to land that fish and I finally got his lips up to the hole and then speared him through the gills, but I'll tell you it was a fight and a great experience in Alaska's outdoors I think everyone should give it a try, I take our granddaughters out there and they love it," Krueger told the Dispatch.
The annual Soldotna Hardware Ice Fishing Derby has become a statewide winter tourist attraction with fishers entering from as far away as Fairbanks and the Mat-Su Valley, "It's all about winter fun and we'll be happy to do it all again next year," added Miller.
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