The 33rd annual South Dakota Walleyes Unlimited Sheridan Lake Ice Fishing Tournament was held this past Sunday and featured 95 teams competing in the perch and pike divisions. But preparation for myself and my fishing partner Kelly started weeks ago.
I've always done the perch division with my teammates, as I'm the most familiar with them, but during January, the perch typically are scattered and suspended over deeper water as they progress into their midwinter patterns.
However, this year, the perch were clinging to the bottom of the lake and clinging hard. Each time we went out to scout some areas, we found the fish but getting them to bite, however, was a chore and didn't seem to matter what we put in front of their face.
It was always a taxing experience which yielded some fish, but not much for numbers coming up through the holes. But we settled on a spot in deeper water closer to the dam, as the place we'd set up for the tournament, it yielded the best average size and numbers we would need to be able to compete with the others.
Day of the tournament arrived and we got out to our spot early enough to reopen our holes and drill some more to cover a wider area. At the rules meeting, I chatted with friends who were competing as well and the general theme was that it was going to be a hard day to bring fish up as it had been that way for nearly a month.
We could bring in thirty fish, but only the best twenty-five would be weighed. So I set the goal of catching at least twenty before noon since the bite was even harder after the noon hour. The fish did not disappoint all day, proving difficult to get to bite.
Downsizing from horizontal to smaller vertical jigs like Clam Pro Tackle's Half-Ant Drop was the best way to get them to bite. I tipped mine with red maggots for a bit and reeled up a few perch, but decided to add on a pink IceMite Jr. plastic from J and S Custom Jigs and see if a small micro plastic that added very subtle movement to the jig would trigger the lethargic fish.
It did work better after that and I started bringing up more fish consistently. Kelly threw one onto his jig as well and it worked for him as well. Luckily, we hauled up twenty fish right before noon and it was a good thing we did as we only caught six more over the next three hours before we had to go to weigh-in. We had a few nice ones, but the majority were on the small side unfortunately.
We did better than a large majority of the sixty plus teams in the perch division as many reported in with no fish or stories of non-biting fish, so I knew we were lucky to at least bring in the twenty-five we needed. We ended up placing 14th, just missing out on the money places by .07 ounces.
I'd hoped for a top-15 placing so we at least accomplished that goal. Next year, I'll be checking out some other areas of the lake and see if they hold consistent patterns of perch. Preparation for tournaments is key to doing well in them.
Hopefully, the bite won't be as hard as it was this year. There is always somewhere else to scout and locate fish and sometimes it can be hard to skip other areas where you've caught fish in the past, but the size wasn't there.
But if you put in some extra time and try some place new, you might be rewarded with a successful tournament experience. Just because you don't win the tournament doesn't mean it wasn't a success. I'm already looking forward to next year's tournament and hopefully a top-10 finish.