A recent find in the clubs archives has begun an intensive hunt for the history of the Chain o lakes ice fishing derby and the clubs history itself. For many of us club members and others in our community, its hard to believe we are quickly approaching our 55th annual ice fishing derby and winter festival. In the sorting, compiling and organizing of this information it has become worthy to note the tireless efforts of the clubs members, area businesses and the community who have kept this event going strong throughout the years.
In 1960 a self employed tree cutter by the name of Richard Waters of Channel Lake and William E. Brook also of Channel Lake began to form what is now the Northern Illinois Conservation Club. Both being fisherman and avid sportsmen had the insight to realize the decline in the quality of the chain o lakes and our natural environment itself. Dedicated to the education of our youth and the community abroad they gathered others to help fight the battle! Records show the clubs involvement with the Illinois dept of Conservation and Area fishery biologists.
The first derbies held were known as the Channel Lake Ice Fishing derby and date back to 1956. The organization then called The Channel Lake Community Club (for the betterment of Channel Lake) held the derby on the south shore of the lake near the Channel Lake grade school. The prizes awarded were not much to speak of by today’s standards but brought the community out both young and old for a day of fun during the long winter.
The early derbies were not just for fishermen to win prizes and the club to raise operating funds but more of a fact finding mission concerning the condition of our lakes and fish population. During the derby all fish were inspected by area biologists (whom were also the fish judges) and information recorded such as size, length, weight, and general physical condition. The day caught, water temperature and clarity, the lake caught on and time were all compiled into a report and forwarded to the state for review. This extensive data provided the useful ammunition for the biologists to set in place pollution controls, boating restrictions, clean water acts and necessary fish restocking programs to provide for the future of our lakes.
As meager as the derbies seemed, the local businesses and community continued to upgrade the event with more and better prizes each year. In 1963 the event changed its name to the Chain o lakes Ice fishing Derby sponsored by the NICC. Documents also show raffle ticket sales to the general public, 1st prize – 14ft Aluminum Boat w/ 51/2 hp Johnson outboard, 2nd prize – Ice Auger, and 3rd prize – Model 12 Winchester riffle. 1964 marks a record year in ticket sales with the last printed ticket number of 3000 showing all distributed and the majority sold with the price tag of $1.00 ea.
A 1964 newspaper article pre derby headline read: “NICC ready for record turn-out for ice derby”. The article boasts an expected turn-out of more than 3000 fisherman and fisherwoman angling for valuable prizes, in all over 80 prizes will be handed out. “Committees in charge of the gala event have all the details necessary to handle the record crowd”. The article goes on talking about the various contests throughout the day and the long list of valuable prizes. It ends on the note “all of the proceeds will go into the NICC coffers to augment and expand its conservation and youth program”.
The derbies of the 60’s were held as a one day event in the beginning of January each year. Fishing hours were 9:00 am to 4:00 pm and prizes awarded for the largest and smallest fish in each of six fish categories and a prize for the oddest fish caught for the day. Derby popularity grew amongst the general public and more events were added such as ice auger contests, sack races, ice block guessing contests, minnow guessing contest, penny scrambles and other contests and games all of which won a prize!
A ladies ice auger contest was also held which gave them the title of “State Champion”.
Prizes were also awarded to the oldest fisherman, oldest fisherwoman, best dressed fisherperson and even the oddest dressed fisherperson. An article in the January 20th 1966 edition of the Antioch news following the derby quotes “The NICC annual ice fishing derby went into the history books in a blazing flash of glory as 3,000 plus arctic type anglers made hash out of the Channel Lake ice”. This article claims “the biggest ice fishing clambake in the state”. Indiana and Wisconsin were represented by fishing hopefuls, as well as Illinois. Even the states attorney came out to see what makes an ice fisherman be.
The largest fish of the day was a 23 in., 5 lb., 10 oz. walleye, the largest bass of the day a 16.4 inch large mouth weighing in at 2 lb., 7 oz.. Two northern pike were caught and had to be returned to the water since they are closed to ice fisherman.
By the mid 1960’s the chain o lakes ice fishing derby became a famous event not only in the local community but across the tri-state area. It’s popularity continued to grow well into the 1970’s. The prizes became more valuable, fishing categories were expanded, satellites added to span the chain o lakes and a 2nd day added to the derby to make it weekend affair. For many years from the early 70’s to late 80’s the ice fishing derby and summer fishing derbies were a joint venture between the NICC and the Antioch Civic Club 885.
The derbies of today are not much different than the derbies of yesteryear. Our unique system of hourly prizes, cash for large and small fish in each category and raffle ticket entry have made this an enjoyable event for all who participate.
It’s hard to imagine how such a small organization could pull off an event of this magnitude. Think again! The clubs membership in the early years soared to well over 250 families. All the prizes and monies to run the derby were donated not only by the local business community but came from across the country! Cash donations of $1,000.00, $5,000.00 and even $10,000.00 were not un-common. Proceeds of the derby and other fund-raising activities have provided the club with the necessary funds to support many successful conservation programs throughout the years.
The goals of the organization remain the same as they were set forth in 1960. The rapid decline in the quality of our lakes and environment during the 1950’s and 60’s led both Mr. Waters and Mr. Brook in the formation of the NICC and the creation of conservation awareness among the general public and our youth. With out their wisdom and visions of the future our environment would be a much different place than it is today.