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(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) People head out to the ice of Rockport Reservoir looking to hook one of more than 30 tagged trout swimming beneath the reservoir's ice Sunday. Lucky anglers who catch one and take it to the Rafter B store can claim prizes ranging from cash to gear.
Money talks and swims in Utah fishing challenge

Above the ice, anglers wait; below dwells their prey: 33 trout with tags for cash and prizes.

First Published Jan 15 2012 04:36 pm • Last Updated Jan 17 2012 09:54 am

Rockport Reservoir • The wind was howling, the fishing was slow and it was on the cold side, but 8-year-old Tyler Stephens was holding out hope that the Xbox gaming system he had been dreaming about would eventually take his bait.

Tyler’s grandpa, Gilberto Vigil, had told his grandson Saturday night that they might catch a trout with a tag on it while fishing at Rockport Reservoir that could be worth $2,500.

At a glance

Fish challenge

The Rafter B Fish Challenge tagged trout contest is taking place at Rockport Reservoir in Summit County. Thirty-three trout have been tagged on the dorsal fin and released. Numbers on the tags are attached to prizes including $2,500 in cash, outdoor-related equipment, vacations and gift certificates. As of Jan. 15 at 2 p.m. no one had turned in a tagged fish. Visit http://stateparks.utah.gov/ and look for the Tagged Fish Challenge button for more information.

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"He said he would buy an Xbox if he caught that one," Vigil said Sunday while standing on the ice at Rockport.

Tyler had already landed one fish and wasn’t too disappointed that it wasn’t sporting a tag in its dorsal fin like the 33 fish in the reservoir that currently are tagged.

"I was eating doughnuts and my grandpa said I had a fish. I had to drop my doughnuts and gloves and run over and reel it in," Tyler said.

In fact, as of Sunday afternoon not one tagged fish had been turned in as part of the Rafter B Fish Challenge. There were all kinds of rumors circulating on the ice about tagged fish that had been caught, but Kim Alderman of the Rafter B convenience store in Wanship, where the tags need to be turned in, confirmed that not one has been checked in since the challenge started on Jan. 1.

Chances are winning anglers may realize they have a tagged fish before even seeing it. The Division of Wildlife Resources provided fish of about 3 pounds to be tagged and released at the reservoir.

Officials released 28 trout for the start of the contest, but have added five more as additional sponsors have asked to be included.

Rockport State Park officials and Alderman agree that the first 15 days of the contest have already made it a success and say they expect it will become and annual event.

"We certainly are seeing an increase in the number of fee envelopes we need to open," said state park ranger Chris Quatrale. "It is also fun to see so many people and a lot of families out having such a good time."

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The idea for the tagged trout contest came from Rockport State Park manager Joe Donnell. The folks at Rafter B are the lead sponsors, providing the $2,500 top cash prize and serving as the official headquarters of the event.

Anglers who ice fish at Rockport on a regular basis estimate there were about 300 people on the reservoir Sunday and said there were likely three times as many anglers out on Saturday.

"It has been fabulous," Alderman said shortly after delivering a couple of fresh pizzas from the store to anglers at Rockport. "We had no idea it would turn out to be this big."

There are other reasons why Rockport may be experiencing high angler numbers. Mild winter days, combined with safe ice (10 to 12 inches) across the reservoir and the fact that other nearby reservoirs have little or unsafe ice conditions may also be a part of it.

The big numbers, while appreciated, are creating some concern for state park officials. In addition to plenty of parking provided within the state park borders on the east side of the reservoir (a $7 per vehicle entry fee is required), there are pull outs on the west side of Rockport along State Road 32. The three pullouts with restrooms require a $3 parking fee, but the rest are free.

The problem is the pullouts are filling up and people are parking on the west side of the highway. State park rangers say it’s a dangerous situation and advise people to park on the east side of the highway or visit the east side of the park.

Tyler and Gatlin Bueter traveled from American Fork to spend a day on the ice as father and son. Fishing was slow, but they were optimistic, having caught a dozen or so in the same spot a week ago.

Tyler Bueter said they likely would have ended up at Rockport anyway, but he likes the idea of the contest.

"It’s a great idea. It gets people to come and visit and get outdoors and do some fishing," he said. "With all the budget cuts in the Department of Natural Resources it helps get some money back to the park."

Royce Chidester of Taylorsville and his grandson, Jax Mitchell, were fishing with the Bueters. Chidester has been fishing at Rockport for more than a decade. His trip Sunday provided him the opportunity to expose his grandson to ice fishing for the first time.

Jax said he understood that he might catch more than a fish if he was lucky enough to land one, but he was pretty content with the opportunity just to be there with his grandpa.

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