Sunday found Ed Rivers sitting at home, a nervous man.
Last Monday, he’d entered a weeklong fishing derby on Lake Pend Oreille.
That morning, only a few minutes after his 20-year-old boat left the dock, Rivers caught a 19-pound, 14-ounce rainbow trout.
Top prize in the derby is a new 18-foot boat. Rivers knew that winning fish generally weigh in around 25 pounds. He figured he had a decent shot at third place.
On Sunday, only hours from the end of the derby, no one had caught a larger fish.
“The poles are still in the water, and they do have till 10 p.m.,” the 64-year-old Rivers said Sunday afternoon. “I guess I’ll just wait till morning to find out.”
Luckily for him, the fishing was slow at this year’s K and K Challenge Derby, an annual fishing contest dating back five decades.
“It’s been a tough derby - nobody’s caught a lot of fish,” said Chuck Miner, of Sagle. Miner is a board member of the Lake Pend Oreille Idaho Club, which sponsors the derby. Roughly 2,500 people entered this year’s tournament.
Cold and deep, Lake Pend Oreille is home to world-class trophy rainbow trout, known as kamloops. Money raised by the derby helps restore fish habitat at the lake.
Club president Bill Schaudt said Rivers’ fish was the smallest leader in at least 10 years.
“It’s hard to say if there’s a lack of fish or they just aren’t biting,” he said.
Club members attributed the slow fishing to low water temperatures and a shrinking population of kokanee, a favorite food of the big trout. The club emphasized catch-and-release fishing this year, with derby competitors allowed to enter only one fish.
“It is a gamble. People have put back 20-pound fish,” said Bobbie Natschke, office manager of the Holiday Shores Marina in Hope. The walls of the marina’s cafe are covered with photos of huge trout. A 43-pound mackinaw is mounted over the lunch counter.
As “Derby Master,” Natschke worked the marine radios, telling anglers who was winning. She never got a chance to fish.
Competition is fierce, with trophy fish and $30,000 in prizes at stake. Derby rules allow officials to X-ray prize fish for hidden lead weights. Rule No. 8 includes a provision for polygraph testing of anglers.
Anglers scent their lures with anise oil, shrimp oil or WD-40 spray lubricant. They use sonar to find fish.
“The day of the bamboo rod is gone,” said Bobbie Kassel, coowner of the marina. “For the people that consistently catch a big fish, it’s an obsession.”
“We’re still waiting to get the 25-pounder,” said angler Gene Auge of Hope. “That’s what everyone’s waiting for.”
Others gave up early.
“I’m going home,” said Rich Halverson of Kahlotus, Wash. After four days, he’d hooked only one fish, and that one got away.
He said he wasn’t discouraged.
“I’m never disappointed,” he said. “I had a good time fishing, just a bad time catching.”
At Bayview’s JD’s Resort, Don Sargent retired to the bar to strategize. He wanted more wind to stir up the water.
“I’ve been out there every night since it started,” he said from behind a beer.
In each of the previous three years, he said he’s caught a fish over 20 pounds.
“The adrenaline rush happens. They come to the surface and jump. They shake and they run,” he said. “It’s a battle.”
“I’m hooked,” he said.