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West River Ice Fishing League: Tournament Qualifier #2

As mentioned last week, my friend Steve and I got into the new ice fishing league that formed this fall, called the West River Ice Fishing League (WRIFL for short), qualifier #1 was at Sheridan Lake and #2 was on the small body of water known as New Underwood Dam.

Due to its small size, we knew we'd have to get out there early to claim a decent spot to fish before the other teams got there. So, Steve and I headed out there well before sunrise to start drilling holes along an area where lake maps indicated that the depth would drop a few feet and I'd figured drilling along it would give us a good chance at catching fish.

What we discovered was that the lake maps were not updated since the drought from this past summer had dropped water levels considerably from what the map said it should be. But we found some spots nonetheless and drilled lots of holes as more of the teams started coming onto the ice.

The little dam soon had nearly forty fishermen and women on it. I'm sure drivers passing by on the interstate thought it was quite the sight to see with so many people on such a small dam.

At the rules meeting, we were told it was a catch-and-release tourney, where the total weight of every fish caught and brought in would count no matter size (though any largemouth brought in would have to be the legal 15" size to count).

So, we all knew we'd have to catch as many fish as possible to have a chance of placing. Now mind you, most of the fish in the dam were small bluegills and crappie with a few catfish and largemouth in it.

Steve and I had rigged most of our rods for gills before the meeting and immediately began marking fish once the tournament started. What we quickly discovered was that despite the warmer weather and dropping barometric pressure, the fish were finicky and seemed to prefer small presentations to our standard 1/16 to 3/64oz.

Jigs rigged with Maki plastics were tried. We had to go smaller yet. Having a good spring bobber helped as well. The 25" light action Ice Team Professional series rod with attached Nitinol Spring bobber from Clam Outdoors that I'd picked up for this season proved to be the right tool to see the light biting fish.

Once I had the fish dialed in and had Steve try the same combination, we started catching fish. Over the next four hours, we caught and weighed in over 80 fish, mostly small bluegills and crappie and it was the same for the other teams as well.....lots and lots of small fish.

The talk of the ice, however, was the 9.6-pound catfish that fellow HSM member, Craig and his partner caught on an Arctic Warrior tipped with a minnow. That fish guaranteed their victory that morning and we all knew it. The race was on for second and third place since those were the last money spots as well as higher points for the tournament series.

As we waited for the organizers to add each fish's weight that had been brought in (the average weight of each fish I'd estimated at between 0.16-0.22 pounds based on our average weight), we saw as our total added up to 11.18 pounds of fish.

We were out of first and second place, but we still had a shot at third. Only once the last few teams were added up; did we realize that another team had weighed in 11.28 pounds to edge us out of third by 0.1 pounds. One more stinking little fish would've put us over the top!

All we could do was laugh with the third-place team at the sheer luck of it all! This series is all in fun, so we just took it all in stride and we still had a fun day on the ice mingling with the other teams.

With a fifth-place finish two weeks ago and a fourth at this one, we're still sitting pretty good as far as points go as we head into the next two qualifiers before the championship in March. We'll see how things go at the end of the month, but we'll still have fun regardless of the outcome!

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