Fishermen flock to Irish Hills to chill

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  • CAMBRIDGE JUNCTION, Mich. — It is hard to imagine a long line of people waiting anxiously for an opportunity to trudge out on the ice, face the fierce bite of the winter wind, then spend five hours staring down a small hole in the frozen mass of Wamplers Lake.

    But that is just the case with the Midwest Open Ice Fishing Tournament, which will be held Sunday on the 780-acre body of water that straddles portions of Lenawee and Jackson counties.

    Anglers have jockeyed for position to get in the event for more than a year, eager to get a shot at some of the prize money and awards in the most lucrative two-person ice fishing tournament in the country.

    “The interest in participating in this tournament is really unbelievable,” said Tom Knutson of Brooklyn, who runs the event. “We have to limit the field to 300 fishermen and turn a lot of people away. We’ve already had a lot of entries for the 2015 event.”

    The tournament, which has been around about 15 years, is a magnet whose force field covers the continent. This year’s event hosts anglers from nine states and Canada. The two-person teams can weigh in eight bluegills and eight crappies, with the greatest combined weight claiming the top prize of $20,100 going to the winning team.

    Knutson said the format has been designed to draw anglers from as wide a range as possible. There are 70 spots in the field that go to anglers from the 17 “ice belt” states and Canada, chosen by a random draw.

    Anglers compete in the Midwest Open Ice Fishing Tournament at Devils Lake, Mich., last year. The event returns on Sunday.
    Anglers compete in the Midwest Open Ice Fishing Tournament at Devils Lake, Mich., last year. The event returns on Sunday.

    Michigan anglers get 40 of those spots, by random draw, with five each going to anglers from Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Canada.

    Anglers from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa also have the option of entering to land one of the positions in the randomly drawn pool.

    Last year’s event, which was held on Devils Lake, was won by Eric Moore and Albert Avendano of Jackson. The pair split the top prize of $16,000.

    With the first-place money increased and the guarantee that most of the competing anglers will take home some kind of prize from one of the many sponsors, Knutson said he was not surprised at the clamor for entry positions for the tournament.

    “The sponsors make it happen,” said Knutson, who sells a variety of ice fishing supplies at Knutson’s Recreation Sales in Brooklyn. “This is a promotional tool to bring people to Michigan to fish. Our hope is that the fishermen learn the techniques that work around here, and then take their experience here back to their local areas.”

    The public is invited to attend the weigh-in, which starts at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Columbia Central High School in Brooklyn.

    “We’ve got the best ice fishing in the world here, so we want to spread that word around,” Knutson said. “And every time we hold this tournament, ice fishing in this area just kind of explodes for a couple of weeks. It’s pretty amazing to see.”

    LAKE ERIE ISLANDS: Retired ice guide John Hageman said midweek that one of his fishing partners had landed a 31-inch walleye while fishing about a half-mile off South Bass Island.

    Hageman said anglers were picking up fish from a variety of age groups, with a lot of 1 and 2-year-old fish mixed in with the larger ones. He also said the yellow perch fishing had been very good with an abundance of 10-inch fish and a few 12-inchers.

    Ice guide Jeff Jump, who lives on the island year-round, had his shanties positioned about a mile off-shore of Put-in-Bay earlier this week, and at the time he said they were sitting on 12 inches of solid ice, with good water clarity below. Jump said his clients caught several walleye in the 10-pound range, with one beauty that went 32 inches.

    The group also encountered some smaller walleye that were quickly released, and they also caught yellow perch. Jump said he expects to keep moving his shanties around the islands’ ice fishing zone, in pursuit of trophy fish.

    Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.