The Vallecito Conservation and Sporting Association held its fifth annual ice fishing tournament Saturday, resulting in some winning catches and disputed results.
The ice fishing tournament is the largest outdoor winter recreation event at Vallecito Reservoir in northeast La Plata County. Every year, people wait for the lake to freeze so they can try their hand at snaring the trout, pike, walleye and other species swimming under the ice.
The disqualification of 14-year-old winner Darron Boling cast a pall over the sporting event, according to some community members and social media posts.
“This whole weekend was supposed to be about being out in Vallecito ... getting together, having a good time with friends, and supporting the community,” said Boe Boling, Darron’s father. “This has turned into something completely different. It has taken away from everybody that participated.”
This year, Chase Ribble won first place with a 5.12-pound rainbow trout. Richard Samora took second with a 2.42-pound rainbow trout and Dave Peterson earned third place with a 2.12-pound rainbow trout.
In total, 153 people participated in the event, which was funded entirely by VCSA. Fourteen entered trout for the contest’s weigh-in at 2:30 p.m.
Darron qualified for second place and a $500 prize after catching a 2.68-pound brown trout. But before he could be announced as a winner, the VCSA told the crowd that he was disqualified for not having a valid Pine River Irrigation District Recreation Permit, which is a $5 daily pass to access any recreation areas related to the reservoir.
The contest required competitors to follow rules set by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Pine River Irrigation District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Those rules included having a valid PRID Recreation Permit displayed in competitors’ vehicles. If the regulations were not followed, the competitor would be disqualified, according to the contest rules sheet that requires competitor signatures.
The Boling family maintains that Darron tried to pay the $5 fee when he registered around 6:30 a.m.
Darron’s father said the person conducting registration asked Darron if he drove to the event. Darron said he was 14 and did not drive. The registration attendant said he did not have to pay the fee, Boling said.
Although he drove his son to the competition, he was fishing elsewhere (not as a tournament competitor) when the teenager registered.
“Watching my son be told he didn’t do everything by the book – watching him be told that he cheated and he wasn’t an honest sportsman – hurt,” Boling said.
VCSA President Tony Shurts disagreed with the father’s account.
“It was determined that his father brought him,” Shurts said in an email to The Durango Herald. “It was also determined that there was no recreation permit displayed in that vehicle.”
Shurts also said the permit requirement was announced several times during registration and in event advertising.
Boe Boling, who said he has taken issue with the recreation permit fee at the marina in the past, says VCSA was “taking their issues with me out on my son.”
“Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it isn’t because they don’t like me. Maybe they feel they’re just in their determination of what happened,” Boling said. “For the mistake to be on the tournament people, to not allow Darron to try to rectify that. ... It’s a shame.”
The disqualification provoked a verbal confrontation between Boling and VCSA organizers, prompting Shurts to call the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office. Boling was detained, not for his conduct at the event, but for an outstanding warrant for a missed court appearance.
Hundreds of comments accumulated on Facebook about the disqualification. Some said the rules were clearly stated. The majority condemned VCSA and PRID for disqualifying the teenager.
Attendees at the event gave Darron $370 to replace the lost winnings. In total, the community contributed $500 as of Monday, according to Boling.
Ken Beck, PRID superintendent, wrote in an email to the Herald that the district had little, if any, administrative involvement with the tournament.
He defended VCSA, saying the rules were widely advertised before the contest and called Facebook comments a “gross mischaracterization.”
During the disqualification, Darron was quiet but upset, his father said. Like many others, the family was hoping for a good day of fishing at the tournament.
“We had a great day on the ice. We put in a lot of work for it,” Boling said. “Darron truly believed he had an opportunity to be successful and get a prize.”