Anglers enjoy inaugural year
It’s a February morning in Wisconsin, and temps are in the single digits. The cold air is punctuated with the sound of snow crunching under boot heels and the angry buzz of augers drilling through the frozen expanse of Lake Wissota.
As the day continues the sun eventually begins to shine, bathing the area with gold rays, but making for slippery walking. It’s calm outside, but every now and again that calm is broken by excited shouts as a fish is brought up, dangling and flopping on a line.
It’s an exciting sight, and even though everyone is in competition with one another, there’s a camaraderie felt in this sport that goes beyond that seen in football, basketball or baseball - and make no bones about it, this is a sport.
“It’s definitely a sport,” Breckyn Lieders says emphatically. “You have to think about strategy and where you’re going to fish and what kind of fish you’re looking for. You gotta be ready to go when you do get a fish.”
Dozens of anglers from multiple schools have descended upon Lake Wissota all with the same goal - catch the most, and the best, fish.
The sport is ice fishing, and it’s a time honored tradition in the state of Wisconsin. But only recently has it become a sport, with the WIFA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Fishing Association) overseeing tournaments.
Colby is the newest addition to the growing roster of participating schools. The club has only just begun, with their first meet taking place last month in Lake Alexander in Merrill.
Colby took that tournament, but it wasn’t an easy feat, with the fish refusing to bite for much of the day.
“We were at this spot where everything was lined up and we thought we had a good spot, “ Mason Voss says in between gathering tip-ups. “We were there the whole time, but it wasn’t really producing. With about an hour left we packed everything up and went to the other end of the lake and ended up dominating.”
But lest you think ice fishing is all about blind luck, you’d be dead wrong, says Voss, who says if you want to win, you have to do your homework.
“There’s definitely some strategy to ice fishing. It all depends on the lake. This is a deeper lake, so you want to set up on ledges or in the channels for walleyes and over in the shallows you know northerns are going to be there.”
Before the club even begins to set up their tents and rods, coaches and students are drawing up topographical maps to locate a lake’s hidden depths.
That research pays off on Saturday, and by days’ end the gold of the sun is matched only by the gold of the trophies that are gleaming in each Colby angler’s hand.
“It’s fun going ice fishing with some buddies and winning tournaments,” Matteo Lopez said with a grin.
He’s not the only one grinning as the club took home several more prizes for longest northern and longest crappie.
The wins having only fired up even more enthusiasm, and if you’ll pardon the pun, Colby is looking for bigger fish to fry this weekend, with the WIFA state tournament set to take place.
“State, I’m not going to lie, I’m a little nervous because that’s a different type of tournament because we can choose which lake we want to go on,” Lieders says. “Every school can go on a different lake and so far I think there are for sure 45 schools that are going to be competing for state.”
It’s hard to think of a team competing for tournament titles in its first year, or even a state title. It helps that each mem-
ANGLERS ber of the club has been fishing for years.
It also helps that the club can draw on strong local support. Parents and teachers at Colby High have volunteered anything from snowmobiles to navigate on frozen lakes, to rods and gear.
Gollon Brothers Wholesale Live Bait, Inc. out of Stevens Point has supplied bait to the anglers, and they also received support from Big Bear Down in Abbotsford. That support has not gone unnoticed by the members of the club.
“There’s been a lot of people who have helped us, from our coaches and family and others have donated bait,” Lieders says. “We wouldn’t be able to do it without the parents who come here and help.”
The state tournament is certainly on everyone’s mind, but looking ahead the club has even bigger plans - grow the sport and get more kids involved.
“I think we’re off to a great start. Two tournament wins back to back is pretty awesome,” head coach Nicole Schalow says. “I know a lot of the kids at school have been hearing about it, and I can just hope that in the future the team grows and we have more students interested in joining.”
With this year already a roaring success, the team is already planning on next season, and getting more students involved in the sport.
“The club will definitely be back,” Voss says, trophy in hand. “I think if anyone wants to join, go for it. All you need is a rod and some bait, find some friends with augers, just drop down and fish.”