The event, organized by the Cortez Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department and the Dolores River Anglers’ chapter of Trout Unlimited, was free for all ages and included contests in several categories such as “youngest fisher,” “biggest fish” and “most caught.” Anglers president Brad Waltman said it has grown steadily over the years, and he expects the city will need to move it to a larger lake soon.
At about 5:30 p.m., as the contest was getting underway, toddlers, seasoned fishermen and all experience levels in between could be seen casting lines into the pond. Waltman used a microphone to announce every catch, and he and Parks and Recreation Director Dean Palmquist helped several of the younger contestants bait their hooks or remove the fish.
In previous years, fishers over 16 were required to provide fishing licenses to compete, but this year the event fell on Colorado’s free fishing weekend, so that requirement was dropped. Organizer Brad Waltman said he believed that change, combined with sunny, 80-degree weather, led to a big turnout. It was still smaller than last year, though, when he said more than 100 people competed.
“(If) we keep growing the way we are, eventually we’ll move over to the Geer Park and fish the lake over there,” he said.
While the Anglers are in charge of organizing the event, the City of Cortez donates the pond every year, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife donates about 200 trout of various sizes.
“It’s a great partnership between three entities,” Palmquist said.
Contestants are asked to keep every fish they catch, but Waltman said some fish survive every year, which is why the small, man-made pond is often home to an unusual variety of aquatic life. This year 51 fish were caught by the end of the derby, leaving more than 100 survivors. Palmquist said people with valid Colorado fishing licenses are welcome to fish in the pond all summer.
Killian Sanders, winner of previous derbies, received the grand prize for this year, which was a tackle box, a fishing rod and a specialized fly fishing rod.
The city and the Anglers pay for the event with money from various fundraisers throughout the year.