This year's Riordan Invitational Derby dedicated to Steve Ustal

By Don Quilici

On April 25-26-27, John Riordan, bar manager for the Pinion Plaza Hotel and Casino and the Carson Station Hotel and Casino, both in Carson City, will host his 7th annual Topaz Lake Invitational Fishing Derby.

That fun-filled derby will be headquartered as usual, jointly at the Topaz Lake Marina and the Topaz Lodge and Casino, located at Topaz Lake, which straddles the Nevada-California stateline.

Sadly, this year, one of the derby's longtime and most popular contestants will no longer be there.

John Steve Ustal, who was born on Dec. 12, 1951, died unexpectedly on Jan 28, this year.

Steve, who was affectionately known as "Stevie" or "Captain E.O." was Riordan's brother-in-law, and was working at Carson Station at the time of his death.

For the record, he was the person who came up with the idea for the first John Riordan Fishing Derby, which was held at Bodega Bay in Northern California.

It attracted a total of four people who fished on the sport fishing boat "Sea Dog" for Ling Cod and Rock Cod.

And on that trip, the idea of having an annual derby took root and grew.

The next year, 10 contestants were entered in the second derby, which was also held at Bodega Bay.

Then.. the third year, a group of 25 people (including yours truly) traveled to Bodega Bay. On that trip, I was lucky enough to catch the largest Rock Cod, Barbara Riordan caught the largest Ling Cod, and we have both been active participants in the many derbies held throughout the following years.

Those derbies have been headquartered at various locations including Bodega Bay, Bucks Lake near Quincy, Calif., the Walker River Resort in Smith Valley and then for the last six consecutive years at Topaz Lake.

Among my personal top memories of those various derbies are:

1. The second year that I was a contestant at Bodega Bay. There was a party of 28 people on that boat and 24 of the 28 (including a very green-looking Don Q) got terribly seasick in the rough ocean waters. it was not fun!

2. The brook trout that I caught at Bucks Lake. That brookie was only about 12 inches long, but it took first place in the Brook Trout Category. And, believe it or not, that 12-incher was bigger than the winning fish in the Mackinaw Trout, Rainbow Trout, German Brown Trout and Kokanee Salmon categories!

3. The very profitable pro football pool that I also won at the Bucks Lake Derby, that very same year.

During all those years, Steve Ustal and my little fishing group of Norm Budden, Don Hettrick, Bob "Slick" McCulloch and Don Q developed a warm relationship and friendly competition, as we each seriously tried to win the various categories (such as largest rainbow, largest German brown, largest Cutthroat, etc.) in each of those derbies.

Without fail, whenever the four of us would return to derby headquarters at the end of a day of fishing, we would instantly check the leader board to see where Steve was in the standings. He was a very dedicated and serious fisherman, and we knew that if we were to have any chance of winning, we would have to do better than Steve.

In fact, on four different occasions he was a first place winner!

This year, Steve is gone but his memory will live on through a perpetual trophy donated by the four of us, and dedicated to the memory of Steve Ustal.

That large trophy will be awarded each year to the individual who catches the largest overall fish in the derby. Then, that person's name will be entered on a plaque on the trophy which will be on display at the Topaz Lake Marina.

The annual John Riordan Invitational Derby has now grown to where in 2004 there will be approximately 100-125 contestants. And, it has been expanded to three days of fishing rather than the traditional two days in past years.

The derby will feature a hamburger and hotdog barbecue on Sunday evening at the Marina, a barbecued Tri-Tip and chicken dinner also at the Marina on Monday night and then the big Prime Rib dinner and awards banquet at the Lodge on Tuesday evening.

At that awards dinner, approximately $1,000 in prizes will be awarded to the contestants, with every person winning a raffle prize! Those prizes include fishing rods, reels, rod and reel combinations, tackle boxes, all kinds of camping and fishing gear, ice chests, shirts and hats.

During this year's derby, the contestants will be able to fish, anywhere they want, in the open sections of the Walker River System and the Carson River System, both in Nevada and California.

Those Walker River waters include:

In Nevada: The East Walker River, the West Walker River, Topaz Lake, Topaz Canal, Hinkson Slough, Fort Churchill Cooling Ponds, Weber Reservoir and Walker Lake.

In California: Upper and Lower Twin Lakes, Robinson Creek, Bridgeport Reservoir, Virginia Lakes, Green Creek, Dynamo Pond, the East Walker River, the West Walker River, etc.

The Carson River waters include:

In Nevada: The East Carson, the West Carson and the main Carson River, and Lahontan Reservoir.

In California: The East Carson River, the West Carson River, Indian Creek Reservoir, Summit Lake, etc.

The derby will pay cash prizes for the top three places ($150 for first, $75 for second and $25 for third) for the largest Catfish, German Brown Trout, Lahontan Cutthroat Trout and Any Other Trout.

Finally, the 7th annual Topaz Lake Derby will be a fun-filled, three-day occasion where everyone will have a chance to visit with old friends, try to win in the various derby categories, eat good food and enjoy good companionship.

The only thing missing will be Steve Ustal, but I guarantee that we will drink a toast to his memory at the Awards Banquet on Tuesday evening.

- Bet Your Favorite Pigeon

Bet your favorite pigeon that he can't tell you the best that I have ever done in all of those derbies.

If he grins and says, "It was the year that Don took first, second and third place in the Cutthroat category and got loudly booed by all his friends at the Awards Banquet," he could have been one of the other contestants.

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