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(From left to right: Ida Hegstrom, Theodore Mertes, Harvey Mertes, and Gavin Campbell.) Award winners of the Trout Unlimited Labor Day Fishing Derby. Photo by Carly Winchell.

Labor Day weekend in Buena Vista began with the annual Optimist Club pancake breakfast and the Kids Fishing Derby sponsored by the Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited (TU), the BV Optimist Club, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). Theodore Mertes, Harvey Mertes, Ida Hegstrom, and Gavin Campbell were the lucky winners at the end of the hour.

The competition began at 10:00 a.m. sharp with a siren sound signaling families spread out around the lake. In less than a minute the first fish was reeled in to shore. Volunteers were spread around the lake to measure the fish and provide assistance.

Volunteers help measure a fish caught in the Labor Day Fishing Derby. Photo by Carly Winchell

There was a flurry of activity as soon as the event started with a brief lull in the middle of the hour. At the end of the competition, the activity picked up again with three simultaneous catches keeping volunteers busy as they hurried to measure the fish.

Twenty-six fish in total were caught. Some were kept for a trout dinner and others were released back into the lake.

The kids received varying degrees of help and support from their families. Adults demonstrated casting techniques and helped get fish off the line and onto the stringer.

Most of the kids used spinning rods. One participant used a bright orange fly rod and another took up a fly rod near the end of the hour.

Kids of various ages were positioned around the lake. Some grew bored without the excitement of a fish on the line, turning to building sand castles instead of catching fish.

Competitors gather around the lake in McPhelemy Park to try to catch the longest fish in the Labor Day Fishing Derby. Photo by Carly Winchell

Owner of Dvorak Expeditions and longtime rafting and fishing guide Bill Dvorak, who typically runs the event, took it a bit easier this year while recovering from shoulder surgery. Trout Unlimited Secretary Karen Dils took the reigns in his stead to run the derby.

“It’s great that TU puts this stuff on for kids each year,” said Dvorak. He expressed hope that the derby would instill a love of fishing in the kids at a young age.

“You get kids out to do stuff like this and they’re much more likely to turn into little conservationists,” said Dvorak.

In the Junior Division (under seven), Ida Hegstrom, age four, caught the longest fish at eleven and one quarter inches and Theodore Mertes, age four, caught the first fish within eight minutes and thirty seconds of the derby’s start.

In the Senior Division (over seven) Gavin Campbell, age ten, caught the longest fish at thirteen and a half inches and Harvey Mertes, age seven, caught the first fish of the competition within forty-five seconds of the derby’s start.

The Optimist Club offered a hot dog lunch for competitors following the derby.

The Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited (TU) has over 300 members. TU works to complete habitat restoration, and stream access maintenance. TU advocates for responsible public policies and works with a variety of agencies on conservation projects. They offer fly fishing classes, a middle school program called “Stream Explorers,” a women’s group called FlyGals, and sponsor youth fishing derbies like this one.