Level red in Manitoba? Let’s go to an ice fishing derby

Derby organizer Eric Labaupa fishing with his son in the annual FAAM derby at Lake Winnipeg. Marek Tkach / Global News

Many popular fishing spots around Winnipeg are busier than usual as ice fishing season enters its prime months.

That was evident just off the shores of Gimli, on Lake Winnipeg over the weekend as more than three dozen tents packed a designated area of ice for the annual Filipino Anglers Association of Manitoba (FAAM) Ice Fishing Derby.

“Normally we’d have a whole barbeque and a big social aspect, but everyone is in their own shelters here, everyone’s staying apart and we’re having the derby via Facebook today,” said Eric Labaupa, president of the FAAM.

Labaupa taking pictures of the derby late Sunday morning. Marek Tkach / Global News

Labaupa, the organizer of Sunday’s derby, has been out fishing multiple times each week since the ice in southern Manitoba fell below zero.

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He’s noticed more first-timers on the ice this season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since this pandemic started last winter and especially this season, so many more people have taken up the sport. Ice fishing is fantastic, sales are through the roof of all kinds of equipment and stuff like that so people are really getting into it.”

Read more: Ice fishing, snowmobiling growing more popular with Manitobans

Last year, 30 competitors signed up to participate in the FAAM derby and this season over 70 people signed up.

Leon Belandiuk was one of many fishermen in the derby who could considered new to the sport.

“I usually only go out once or twice a year, and I’ve really gotten into lately over the last few years,” said Belandiuk.

Leon Belandiuk fishing inside his tent at the FAAM derby on Sunday at Lake Winnipeg. Marek Tkach / Global News

But this year Belandiuk has more free time to work with, and as a result, he’s enjoying his tenth fishing trip of the young season.

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Read more: Rules to remember when enjoying outdoor activities in Manitoba

“I found that I have more time on my hands with my job and I love the outdoors. I don’t even mind this winter weather. I really enjoy fishing and the community is one thing that really brings me too it.”

Labaupa says derbies and physically-distanced events are being held weekly across the province for those looking to get involved with the sport.

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