Somewhere out in the depths of McGregor Lake, there’s a $2,000 fish lurking. This weekend about 1,000 people are going to try to find him.
On Feb. 7 and 8, the McGregor Lake Resort is hosting its 11th annual ice fishing derby, one of the biggest events of its kind in the state. Participants pay a $15 entry fee and then take to the ice in search of large mackinaws – also known as lake trout – and rainbow trout. Last year, the winning fish was worth $2,232 and the second biggest mackinaw gave a lucky angler $1,780.
Mike Lavoie, one of the resort’s three owners, said the derby’s participants are a combination of diehard anglers and people just looking for a fun day on the ice. Not everybody who registers for the event fishes, he said. Some enter simply to enjoy time with family and friends. These non-anglers are also eligible for one of the many raffle prizes given out over the two days.
Prizes include a variety of outdoor gear and donations from local businesses such as free alignments for trucks. There is also a kids fishing division in which all participants are given a prize bag with fishing lures, a hat, a compass and more.
“It’s kind of all about the camaraderie,” Lavoie said. “Drink and be merry and wait for the big one to bite.”
Lavoie owns McGregor Lake Resort with Mark and Julianne Bacialli. The resort is located 30 miles west of Kalispell near Marion off of U.S. Highway 2. It offers lodging, dining, a full bar, a casino and a variety of lake activities throughout the year.
Fishing on the lake has been strong recently, Lavoie said. Last week, he said fishermen were hauling in 40 to 50 mackinaws and rainbows a day. Cut bait is popular for the lake trout, while night crawlers and maggots are often effective for rainbows.
Anglers in the derby must bring their own fishing equipment and an auger to drill a hole in the ice. Some participants transport shacks onto the ice and others make due with chairs or their feet. The ice, Lavoie said, is nearly 14 inches thick, making it solid enough for ATVs and snowmobiles. But he wants people to remember that the lake is spring-fed, which occasionally produces small pockets of open water on the ice.
Lavoie said last year’s poor weather made for unfavorable fishing conditions. Based on what he’s seen in the weeks leading up to this year’s event, he expects far better conditions.
“We have phenomenal ice right now,” he said.
Check-in for the derby starts at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning and then fishing lasts until 5 p.m. To avoid long lines on Saturday, people should register early, Lavoie said, but they aren’t required to. As of last week, ticket sales had been brisk, he said.
On Sunday, fishing again begins at 6 a.m. and runs until 5 p.m. The raffles are held at 5 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. The resort will have breakfast, lunch and dinner for sale throughout the weekend. Cocktails and bait will also be available. Participants are asked to clean up after themselves.
The winning mackinaw last year weighed in at 10 pounds and the largest rainbow was a fat seven-and-a-half pounds. Cash prizes are given out for the four biggest lake trout and three largest rainbows.
“Even if you’re not lucky enough to catch the big fish, you can still go back with the big (raffle) prize,” Lavoie said.
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