It was a perfect day this past weekend for anglers in southwest Wisconsin to take to the lake and try their luck in the 6th annual Atomic Ice Derby.
Almost 800 anglers gathered on Lake Onalaska for a chance at prizes and enjoy an afternoon of fishing.
Scott Gartner, owner of Bob’s Bait and Tackle in La Crosse, started this tournament six years ago with a buddy to generate greater interest in the outdoors and support local businesses.
“We just decided we want to have an ice derby,” Gartner said. “It started out with just around 200 people and grew from there.”
This ice fishing contest is unique. Instead of the only prize being for the biggest fish, and only going after one type of fish, anglers have multiple chances to claim bragging rights.
The contest allows anglers to go after five species that have to be at least a certain length: Bluegills (7 ½ inches or more), perch (9 ½ inches or more), crappie (10 inches or more), bass (17 inches or more), and northern (30 inches or more).
An angler can weigh in up to five of each species for a total of 25 for the tournament. Any fish weighed in that reaches the slot limit, is given an entry into the raffle for a chance to win $10,000 and series of other prizes, which included rod and reel combos, and cash prizes. Unfortunately for anglers in this years derby, no one took home the $10,000 grand prize.
Anglers from all across the area came out to test their luck. Ed Slimen of Taylor, Wisconsin, has fished in all six derbies that have been put on that have been put on by this group.
“If I didn’t have to work, I probably would fish all day long,” Slimen said about being on the ice.
Slimen found luck in six feet of water, landing a 18-inch largemouth bass on a tip up rigged with a shiner. Slimen was enjoying the time on the ice with his daughter who also partakes in the derby almost every year.
Jared Albitz of Onalaska is also a regular at the derby. Albitz found success in the northern category, catching a 37-inch northern shortly before the weigh in.
This event is a test for serious anglers trying to prove their skills, and for families with young kids. Beth Zimmerman of Onalaska brought her kids, Remi and Braeden, out to enjoy the beautiful day on the ice.
“The newness of it, for them, is great,” Zimmerman said. “It’s our first time with them out here.”
Braeden said he loved to be able to spend some time on the ice with family.
“You get to catch big fish,” Braeden said about his favorite about being on the ice.
At the end of the day, the Atomic Ice Derby is a great way for area anglers all to gather and enjoy the outdoors with friends and family. A portion of the proceeds made from the tournament is donated to the St. Jude’s Children Hospital.