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MANITOU BEACH, Mich. — Early Sunday afternoon, a relieved Tom Knutson saw 150 two-person teams come off the Devils Lake ice — ice that was about 8 inches thick, and two years in the making.
The 2013 Midwest Open, one of the top ice fishing tournaments in this part of the country, went off without a hitch, or a fracture in the sheet of frozen water serving as the fishing platform.
Last year’s event had to be scrubbed, but not due to thin ice — it was no ice.
“It took us two years to get this in, so it’s nice we were able to get the kind of ice we needed to see in order to go ahead with it,” said Knutson, the director of the event. “Safety is always the first concern, and when I saw 8 inches of ice in the south end of the lake on Saturday, I felt good about it. We had been watching that area closely for two weeks.”
Knutson marked off about one-third of the 1,300-acre lake where the tournament would take place, in the southwest end of the popular Lenawee County fishing hole.
Under the tournament format, the 300 anglers took to the ice at 8 a.m. and were required to return to the registration area by 1 p.m., with a maximum of 16 fish — eight bluegills and eight crappies. An official weigh-in then took place at Columbia Central High School in nearby Brooklyn.
Jackson residents Albert Avendano and Eric Moore won the tournament, with a catch that weighed just over six-and-a-half pounds. They split the $16,000 first place money out of the total of close to $34,000 in cash and prizes that was awarded following the completion of the tournament.
Knutson, whose family has been in the live bait business for nearly half a century through its sporting goods store in Brooklyn, said there was a three-way tie for the largest bluegill with fish that weighed in at just over eight-tenths of a pound, and the winning crappie went just over a pound.
Knutson said fishermen from at least eight states and Canada took part in the tournament, which filled all 150 team positions in the field in just four hours after registration opened. He added that it was just an OK day by fishing standards, since about 40 of the teams failed to turn in fish for weigh-in.
“That part of it is a little frustrating for us, because we want to see everyone involved have some success,” Knutson said. “When 40 teams don’t show up with fish, that means it was pretty tough out there.”
He said the event, which has the highest payout in cash and prizes of any ice fishing tournament in the country, attracts a good mix of highly skilled fishermen, along with some novices who are out there to learn more about the unique skill set ice fishing requires.
Knutson said registration for the 2014 event will open on Friday and run throughout the month of February.
The field used to be filled on a first-come, first-served basis, but Knutson will use a lottery drawing from all the entries received in order to provide more opportunities for fishermen from outside the southeast Michigan area.
“I think by going to a random drawing, we’ll give fishermen from each state that has ice fishing the opportunity to take part in next year’s tournament,” he said. “We want to get new people involved and we think that format change will help.”
The 2011 event was held on Clark Lake, while the 2014 Midwest Open is scheduled for Wamplers Lake, which was to be the site of this year’s tournament before high winds made for unsatisfactory ice conditions.
“Our hope is to move the event around,” Knutson said.
Wamplers Lake is located just north of U.S. Route 12, near Hayes State Park.
ROBERTSON BOOK: Toledo pro angler Ross Robertson’s book Walleye Trolling is available through his www.bigwaterfishing.com Web site. The book is 148 pages and costs $24.95. It is also available at Jann’s Netcraft at 3350 Briarfield Blvd. in Maumee.
WILD GAME MEAL: St. Richard’s Parish in Swanton is hosting its annual Wild Game Dinner on Saturday in the school gymnasium. The menu includes alligator, buffalo, and turtle, along with elk chili, rabbit, venison, beaver, raccoon, muskrat, smoked pork, venison kielbasa, and sausage.
The doors open at 5 p.m. with serving beginning at 6. Tickets are $30 and must be purchased in advance. For tickets call the church at 419-826-2791, the school at 419-826-5041, or for more information contact Mike Wheeler at 419-508-6453.
SPORTSMEN CONVENTION: The League of Ohio Sportsmen will be holding their 105th annual convention Feb. 8-10 at The French Quarter in Perrysburg. An awards banquet takes place on Saturday, honoring individuals for outstanding accomplishments in the conservation field. For information or to register for the convention please go to: www.leagueofohiosportsmen.com.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.