Chris Daw held an air horn high above his head, gave a yell and pulled the trigger at exactly 10:00am.“BLAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAT.” So began the first Big Lake Fishing Derby on March 19, 2011.

Story and photos by John Erskine

Sportsman’s Warehouse store manager Josh Anderson and fishing manager Chris Daw had set up a measuring station fifty yards offshore from Big Lake Power Sports on the south side of Big Lake. A yardstick screwed to a 16 x 36 piece of plywood would be the deciding factor on who would walk away with the biggest fish.

Twenty minutes after Chris pulled the trigger, Jeremy Hunt drove up and lifted an ice chest out of the bed of his pick-up. He plunged both hands into the cold water and pulled out a Dolly Varden. It went onto the measuring board and Chris straightened it; tip of nose at the zero line and tip of tail at the other end. “Twenty and a quarter,” he said and lifted the fish to an open hole in the ice. It swam through a long cylinder of water and away.

Well, that’s a good start I thought.

A black pick-up drove onto the lake. “How thick is the ice?” the driver shouted.

“About three and a half feet,” Josh answered.

The truck continued toward the center of the lake.

A good start indeed; I wondered aloud what the numbers were.

“We’ve pre-sold a hundred and ten tickets,” Josh said.

They must all be out on the lake, I thought. Not many people here at the start/finish line,.

“Where is everybody?”

Linda and I had arrived at 9:20am, wanting photos and a story, but only a handful of people were present.

“More to the point, where’s Steve?” Linda asked.

Fisherman extraordinaire Steve Totten, of Houston, AK must have heard about this. If the words ‘fish’ and ‘derby’ had been in the ads, he’d be here.

Less than five minutes later, a familiar pick-up approached the measuring station and stopped. You get one guess.

Steve hauled a very nice Dolly Varden out of his ice chest and laid it on the yardstick. Chris arranged the head and tail and announced “twenty-six and three quarters.” He then wrote that number and Steve’s name (and time) on the tally board. Biggest one so far. Steve released it.

Nineteen minutes later, Erik Meneses brought in a twenty and a half-incher. Twenty-seven minutes after that, Jim Wallace brought in a twenty-five and three-quarter incher. All measured, photographed and slipped back into the drink. Even the rainbow Mike Bosch brought in at 10:50am; back into the lake.

It slowed a bit near noon, which was a good thing; we were hungry. Nitro Grill’s sign said “BURGERS SNACKS DRINKS,” so we walked over.

“Two hot dogs, two drinks and some Minnesota Hot Sauce.”


“You know; ketchup.”

She grinned and left the window to fill the order.

Well, the hot dog was good and the day was CAVU (Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited), but Linda had to get to work, so we took off.

When I returned a half-hour before the 4:00pm closing, there were dozens of people milling around the finish line. I lost count at 80.

Steve’s name was still at the top of the list, but cars and pick-ups kept returning from the wilds of Big Lake.

Quarter to four; over a hundred people milling around. Some lifting cold, wet fish. Most ending up in the lake (the fish, not . . .).

Ten minutes, five minutes, zero and Josh did the ending honors with the air horn: “BLAAAAAAAAAT.”

Lots of crowding around the tally board followed and the man with the camo cowboy hat still topped the list. Way to go, Steve.

Just before the crowd retired to the Power Sports upper level for the awards, I wondered if all these people and all these pick-ups had dented the ice. Then I remembered the ice they had to auger through. Three feet and change. No chance.

After the award gathering (Steve Totten, Jim Wallace, Kylie Hamilton, Mike Bosch, Jeff Olsen and Tyson Sena each received five gallon pails full of fishing goodies courtesy of Sportsman’s Warehouse) everyone filtered into the cold air outside.

So ended the first Big Lake Fishing Derby. And no one really cared if they had caught a fish or not. The day was fabulous.


 John Erskine lives in Big Lake with Fish Alaska designer Linda Lockhart. They live on a lake (not Big Lake). It is rumored that there are fish in the lake. Some day she might convince him to try fishing it.