Over the past couple of weeks, anglers have been flocking to Rockport Reservoir in hopes of hooking into a prize catch of a different kind.
A contest in which tagged fish can be redeemed for cash and prizes has made Rockport one of the area’s most popular ice-fishing spots this winter. Anglers by the hundreds have been drilling holes through the reservoir’s thick ice in pursuit of the $2,500 top prize.
Recently, wildlife officials tagged and released 28 rainbow trout weighing about 1 1/2 pounds each into the reservoir. Each fish was given a number to correspond with a given prize.
Since the start of the contest on Jan. 1, five more have been added to Rockport, bringing the total number of tagged fish to 33.
The contest, the first of its kind at Rockport, is a collaboration between Rockport State Park and a host of local businesses, which have provided prizes ranging from cash and gift certificates to vacations and outdoor recreation equipment.
“We get really busy in the summertime, but we wanted to have something in the wintertime when things get slow,” said Kim Alderman, co-owner of the Rafter B convenience store and gas station in Wanship, which is the primary sponsor of the contest and the check-in site for anyone lucky enough to land a tagged trout.
Rockport State Park manager Joe Donnell approached them with the tagged fish idea, and Rafter B’s owners worked to get other sponsors on board.
Alderman estimated there were about 1,000 people who came to fish at Rockport last weekend. That has resulted in brisk business for Rafter B, which, among other things, delivers pizza to anglers out on the ice.
“Were having summer day sales right now,” she said. “It’s like a little city down there on the ice.”
Anyone who catches a tagged fish must take the tag to Rafter B at 2246 S. State Road 32 in Wanship to redeem the tag for a prize. The challenge ends at 5 p.m. March 1.
As of Tuesday afternoon, no one had brought a tag into the store yet, Alderman said. This Saturday, she said Rafter B will offer incentives, such as free pizza for the first angler to bring in a fish of a certain size.
“We don’t want them to lose hope just because no one has caught a tagged fish yet,” she said, adding that the contest could be extended indefinitely depending on anglers’ success rates.
Park officials say the ice on Rockport is between 10 and 14 inches thick, so it’s safe to drive ATVs and snowmobiles out onto the ice. Fishing success has varied by weather, time of day, and other factors.
The primary safety consideration right now is traffic. As the pullouts along the east side of State Road 32 fill up, people have been parking on the west side of the highway, creating a potentially dangerous situation. Park officials instead encourage visitors to enter Rockport State Park to access the reservoir (there is a $7 entry fee per vehicle).
Phil Douglass, spokesman for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said a similar contest was held last year at Echo Reservoir using tagged smallmouth bass.
Despite the fact that the odds of catching a tagged fish are steep — the annual stocking quota for Rockport is about 80,000 fish — Douglass said the noticeable increase in fishing activity at Rockport since the contest began is encouraging.
“That’s a good thing,” he said. “We want people to be excited about fishing, and it looks like this is working.”