Depending on which participant was asked, the Forest Lake Annual Ice Fishing Derby is either in its 20th or 21st year. Or maybe 22nd.
“Twentieth, I guess,” said Chuck Redina, one of the organizers, although he’s not entirely comfortable with that designation.
“I think it’s the twenty-first,” countered Roy Muller, another veteran of the derby.
Held every year at roughly the same time, Muller explained that the Forest Lake residents who organized the annual event had to be mindful of slotting it so that it didn’t compete with the NFL playoffs or the Super Bowl.
“We figured this was the weekend to do it,” said Muller. “There’s the Pro Bowl game today, but who watches the Pro Bowl? We also thought about holding it after the Super Bowl later in February, but we ran into trouble before a few times doing it that late because the ice started melting.”
The derby started on Saturday at 7 a.m. and went to 5 p.m. and reconvened on Sunday from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., although a number of participants were still there after the derby had concluded. The assorted categories included muskie, northern, walleye, bass, crappie/striper and bluegill/sunfish/perch.
“There hasn’t been much action as far as muskie or northern or walleye this year,” said Brad Michael. “It’s been mostly crappie and bluegill and bass.” Michael happened to catch a 44-inch muskie last year that was chronicled by Midwest Outdoors magazine, one of the derby's sponsors.
To participate, you have to be a dues-paying member of the Forest Lake subdivision. Members also are permitted to bring a guest. All participants must have a valid Illinois fishing license. The organizers also emphasize the practice of catch-and-release, and urge a quick weigh-in of all caught fish so that they can be returned from whence they came.
“All of us here at Forest Lake want to emphasize that this is a private lake, just like all of the other private lakes in this area,” said Muller. “If someone is a member or a friend of a member, that’s fine.”
Saturday was more crowded than Sunday, with a large number of tents and shelters dotting the middle section of the lake. On Sunday there was a decent turnout, but it was more of the core group of Forest Lake residents and their friends.
There was an oil drum-style grill fired up, and Redina was attending to a sliced ham and other assorted meats, including brats and wieners. There also were ice cold cans of beer and bakery items courtesy of Muller’s wife, Kim.
The winner of each category gets a percentage of the money that is donated, or gifted, to each category. Second and third place prizes are contingent on the total amount of the pot for each category.
“There’s more than $200 in a couple of the categories this year,” said Muller.
The derby is also generously underwritten by a group of local businesses, including Country Corners Bait and Groceries in Mundelein, a combination bait, tackle, beer and liquor store—most of the important amenities for fishing or ice fishing. Other sponsors include Salmon Shop and the fishing supply store Anglers International Resource, both in Palatine; Gilmer Road House; ATTS transport company, which is owned by the Hatz family, and Passion Transportation, which is owned by Vicky O’Donnell.
While there are newcomers each year, there's clearly a core group of friends and neighbors who plan and participate in the derby year after year. Other regulars include Gina Glomski, a longtime Forest Lake resident whom several of the derby participants said lives and dies for the derby.
There’s also Zoe Lynn, the sister of Lake Zurich Bears football player Jack Lynn, who as of Sunday at 2 p.m. was in either first or second place in the bass fishing category, dependng on who you asked.
“She’s leading in the bass category,” said Roy Muller.
“She’s in second, not first,” Glomski countered several minutes later. “Well, anyway, she’s either in first or second."