The 2021 Neil Heitkamp Youth Ice Fishing Derby, held Saturday, Feb. 20 in Wahpeton, might have been one for the record books.
While final numbers were not available Saturday, early indications suggested that this year’s attendance surpassed the record of nearly 260 youth who participated in 2020. A free, public event, the derby is traditionally held on Heitkamp Pond, Wahpeton, and has volunteering from people including members of the Red River Area Sportsmen’s Club.
“We want everyone to stay on the pond and enjoy the fishing,” Club President Greg Gerou said Saturday.
Gerou was advising all derby participants to not wander off and check out the ice atop the Red River. Saturday’s weather included warmer temperatures, increasing the chance of thin ice on unprotected areas unlike Heitkamp Pond. Other safety precautions included wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I’ve been fishing since I was about age 3,” said Khloe Heitkamp, 9, Watford City, North Dakota.
Khloe Heitkamp and her sister Madison, 18, are the granddaughters of Neil Heitkamp. The pair were among the youth having a good time Saturday.
“It’s the chance to get outside when the weather’s halfway decent and have something to do in winter,” Gary Page, owner and president of Heitkamp Construction, said previously. “We get the chance to get kids out of the house and off of their electronics.”
For many youth, ice fishing is a family affair. Wrex Geffre, 4, Wahpeton, took part in the derby for the first time. He was joined by brothers Axel, 6, and Jax, 8.
“They saw a flyer and, well, we’ve always wanted to try this,” said Brittany Geffre, the boys’ mother. “They’re out with their grandpas today.”
Harper Bult, 6-and-a-half, came with her mom, Candi. Harper had caught five fish by the time Daily News caught up with her and there was the chance she’d catch plenty more.
“It’s my first time fishing,” Bult said. “I’m liking it a lot.”
Derby organizers say there’s been a growing number of participants from outside the Twin Towns Area. Dean Beyer, Breckenridge, Minnesota, brought daughters Cece, 6, and Evie, 4. The group was completed by Dean’s brother, Pat, his daughter Mady, 16, and son, Jace, 10, and their neighbor Ian Abbott, 12, all from Fargo.
“My little brother Dean comes every year and he said, ‘Hey, come on down to this thing,’” Pat Beyer said. “It’s a great time to get the kids out. They’re outside and enjoying the outdoors and we’re all together as a family with some good people.”