CHASSELL - It may have been a bit windy on Chassell Bay and Portage Lake Saturday, but that didn't stop 119 fishermen, women and children from braving the ice for the Chassell VFW Men's Auxiliary 8th Annual Ice Fishing Tournament.
"This is super fun," said first-time ice fisherwoman Kiira Chittick of Houghton. "It'd be even more fun if a fish would make this thing move," she added, pointing to the miniature pole with its line sinking through a hole drilled in the ice.
Chittick was part of a group that included both hard-core winter anglers Jesse Higgins and Cody Kampe, total newcomers and those that came out once a year at tournament time.
Brandon Looper, rear, Trista Looper and Jesse Higgins stand outside their ice fishing tent on Chassell Bay during the VFW Men’s Auxiliary 8th Annual Ice Fishing Tournament Saturday. They weren’t catching anything, but said braving the elements was still a good time. (DMG photo by Dan Roblee)
Chase Palosaari poses at the weigh-in station at the Chassell VFW with the tournament’s winning walleye, which was actually caught by his fishing buddy James Manderfield. (DMG photo by Dan Roblee)
"On my own, I just like to catch fish to eat," said Higgins, but VFW tournament time made fishing a social occasion.
The main goal of the tournament, according to men's auxiliary member Scott Dewar, who was handling the tournament weigh-in, is "to get kids into fishing, to get them out into the outdoors. ... It's good for them to be away from video games for a while."
"My daughter went out," he said. "I was nervous she'd get cold, but she did pretty well."
Dewar said the 88 registered adults and 31 youth were significantly fewer than for last year's tourney, and the fish count at weigh-in was down as well. But those that did come enjoyed the day, which included door prizes and a meal at the children's weigh-in at 1 p.m., and more food and raffles following the closing of the adult weigh-in at 7 p.m.
James Manderfield and Chase Palosaari ice fish regularly, but the tournament is special, according to Manderfield.
"I like to do it to get the kids involved. They're the future of the sport," he said.
With a good shack, the pair stayed warm, but the conditions still made fishing challenging.
"We couldn't even put the tip-ups out. It was too windy," said Palosaari.
Tip-ups are hand lines set and left behind while fisherman move on to other lines or wait in their shelter. The flags rise, or 'tip up,' when a fish strikes. But Saturday's winds were strong enough to continually trigger the tip-ups without a bite.
"We were pretty happy for two walleye even," Manderfield said. One of those two, Manderfield's four-pounder, turned out to be the biggest walleye of the day.
Michigan Technological University student Stephanie Dow said she got hooked on ice fishing at last winter's Tech Winter Carnival ice fishing tournament, and has hit the ice about four times this winter.
"This year I actually caught a fish. It was fun," she said. "I think if they had some magic change-the-weather device that would be great, but I like catching fish."
In the youth tournament, for children up to age 15, Baily Garrow was the big winner with a 4.4-pound walleye. Kylee Sohldan came in second with a 2.9 pound pike and Vaeda Brooks was third with a 1-pound crappie. Each of the three won a new bike. Hayden Campbell took home $50 prize money for the smallest fish, a .15 pound crappie.
Adult winners down to fifth-place for pike and walleye - though neither filled all five slots - and second for perch and crappie were rewarded with shares of the pool from their $15 entry fees, with every cent taken in given back in prize money, according to Dewar.
The biggest fish of the day was a Northern Pike caught by Brock Riutta, which weighed in at 17.65 pounds. James Manderfield caught the biggest walleye, at 4.26 pounds; John Midkiff pulled in the largest crappie, at 1.53 pounds; and Elizabeth Cartwright had the biggest perch, 0.60 pounds.