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Sunriser fishing derby a family favorite

December 30, 2018 GMT

Hundreds of hardy anglers, young and old, were out in force Saturday on Smith Lake at the Sunriser Lions Club’s 48th annual ice fishing derby.

The event has been a family favorite with families returning year after year. More than 100 fishing tents were spread over the lake, located in Kila off U.S. 2.

Weather conditions were perfect with temperatures around freezing, no wind and a bit of fresh snow.

Eric Christianson, who lives in Columbia Falls, was there with three of his kids and some of their friends. They had a nice stringer of northern pike.

“As long as the kids have fun, that’s all that matters,” Christianson said. “We are fortunate to live in such an area where there are so many great outdoors activities to do and the kids just love it.”

That was evident as kids ran with their fish to be weighed by Joe Rudolph, a member of the Flathead chapter of Walleyes Unlimited.

“I fished it for 20 years with all my kids and it’s always something we look forward to doing,” Rudolph said.

Christianson said everyone was looking forward to a pike feast later. He said he removes the entrails, then pokes holes along the back of the fish and puts sausage into them.

“We bake them in the oven and that sausage just melts down through them and the flesh just separates from the bone, so when you take them out of the oven, it’s easy to eat because you’re not dealing with all the small bones.”

The event, which is co-sponsored by Sportsman and Ski Haus, Flathead Wildlife and Walleyes Unlimited, made sure most of the kids went home with something, not including pike and yellow perch.

The first 80 kids to catch a fish received an ice fishing rod and reel set. There were also prizes for the kids for the smallest pike and perch.

A trio of friends, Joshua Zanett, of Bigfork, and brothers Samuel and Jacob Steinle, who live in Creston, have a story to tell about the one that got away.

They had pulled in about eight pike, including a 20-incher, before a much bigger fish took a hook baited with smelt. The pike had a good head start when it took the bait because the bail on the reel with 4-pound test line was open.

They took turns gently battling the fish for several minutes before it broke off.

“Of course it took the bait on the reel with the lightest line we had out,” Zanett said with a laugh.

The derby served as a fundraiser for the Sunriser’s family fishing pond programs. The Lions also served up grilled burgers, hot dogs, chili and hot drinks.

Smith Lake will be the site of the next ice fishing tournament as the Wild West Panfish Trail takes place Saturday, Jan. 12.