Monday, March 14, 2011

USA! USA! USA!

Ladies and gentleman I present to you the 2012 USA Ice Team!!!


I had the fantastic opportunity to try out for the USA Ice Team this year and I'm so very glad I did. I will be traveling with the team to Finland in March of 2012 to represent the United States. How awesome is that?!?!

It started like this. While we were competing in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Jack Baker asked the competitors who wanted to try out for the USA Ice Team. I saw no one raise their hands at first, so not wanting to have this opportunity be wasted I raised my hand. It was a tough decision because pre-fishing for the NAIFC event had not gone well and I didn't feel confident we would do well on Sunday. I didn't have the proper equipment with me, and one of the rules for the USA Ice Team (and all international competition) is the use of hand augers. My tournament partner Adam Schumacher was in Sheboygan at the time and grabbed the augers before traveling to Oshkosh.

Saturday morning I woke up and began pre-fishing again for the NAIFC event.  I reluctantly pulled up all the gear after again not finding fish and headed to where the USA Ice Team trials were to be held. Upon my arrival I remembered the Kids Ice Camp Ice Clinic was happening in the same place. After helping a couple of kids out the last few minuets of the clinic, I grabbed my rods and realized I had none of my lite pan-fish gear with me; no spring bobbers, no super lite rods. I had all the gear with me that I usually used when fishing for jumbo perch and two pound whitebass. I did, however, have one rod with a schooly reel on it, and after taking almost everything out of my Jeep I found a spring bobber on the floor, tucked under the floor mat. ( If you have ice fishing equipment hiding under the floormats of your vehicle...You may have an ice fishing addiction.) I then found some electrical tape in the glove box and taped the spring bobber onto the rod. It wasn't a pretty sight; it wasn't balanced, certainly not tested, and I had no idea how this would work, but it was all I had.

We were placed outside the "zone" that had been coned off for us to fish in, there were only seven of us competing against each other.  We were already allowed to compete in the finals because less than ten people total signed up, but we needed to determine a ranking. After I drilled 2 holes, I tipped my gold diamond jig with one red spike and dropped it down the hole.  Instantly I had a small perch, perhaps 2 inches, but it counted since weight wasn't a factor for this competition.  This was a race to catch 15 fish as fast as I could, and I didn't care how big it was. I was hammering the little Perch, one after another, after another. After about 20 minutes of catching fish on a steady basis, the other competitors started to notice.  They had all been catching fish too, but not fish that counted since they had to be pan-fish (Perch, Bluegill) or rough fish (Shiners, Shad) and they were catching Large Mouth Bass. Those are not pan-fish AND in order to put one in a bucket in Wisconsin, they must be at least 14 inches.

I finished first with 15 fish in 36 minutes. Second place had 5. I did well that day with equipment that I had not tested, but luck was on my side.

That was all in January, now fast forward.

We ("We" is Adam Schumacher and I. He qualified for the finals in Monticello, MN.) arrived in Rhinelander, Wisconsin this past Friday night, ready to take on the next challenge. We attended the rules meeting and presentation at Bugsy's in downtown Rhinelander, then went back to Holiday Acres on Lake Thompson, (which by the way is AWESOME! What a great place to stay.)

Saturday morning found us on the east end of Lake Thompson in the exact same area Adam and I started our day on Day 1 of the NAIFC Championship back in December. We already knew there were lots of little fish on this part of the lake. The organizers had sectioned off a zone that we were allowed to fish in, and the first three-hour heat that morning was all about how many fish you could catch in three hours. Start time was 8 am. The first four holes I drilled, I didn't find any fish, but after observing others catching fish in a different part of the zone, I moved in on them and began to catch fish consistently.

I finished with 7.5 points in that heat with a count of 65 fish.

Let's put some things into perspective here:  first place had caught 117 fish, and he didn't even catch one for the first 40 minutes! (Officials walked around counting fish and dumping them back into the water throughout the heat so we did not break any bag limit rules.)

The second heat began after lunch, this time it was a race to 25 fish.  They gave you three hours to do it. A zone was again established and we began fishing at 1 pm. Lake Thompson is very stained water and where we were fishing was only about ten feet deep. It was a good place to start for us newbies to the game. I drilled five holes in the second heat, and caught 20 out of 25 in only one of those holes. I finished this heat in 3rd place.

At the end of day one, I had 10.5 points, (the fewer points, the better) and was in the top ten. This was a really good position to be in, since all I needed was a top 10th - 15th finish in the last heat on Sunday in order to qualify for the team. They planned on taking the top ten finishers at the end of the weekend.

Sunday morning, they had us drive to Washburn Lake. This, in contrast to Thompson Lake, was a very clear lake, and the zone they set up for us was twice as deep as the zones on Thompson. It took longer to get the bait down the hole, and it took longer to get the fish up. We started to fish at 8 am. I was having a hard time getting the fish to stay on the hook all the way up to the hole, but eventually I changed how I baited my hook, which made all the difference in the world. I started catching fish quickly.  I drilled two holes, I caught all but two fish in just one of those holes. I finished first in that heat; the first person to catch 25 fish. It was awesome.  I ran across the "time-out" cone and I knew I made the team, it was such a cool feeling. I counted the fish out and after confirming I had the 25, I called my wife and my parents. I was so excited, I could have shed a tear.

I am a proud member of the USA Ice Team, and I will represent the United States of America this coming March in Finland at the World Ice Fishing Championships. WOW, still can't believe that.

Thanks to the great guys that put all this together, and GO USA!!!!!

3 comments:

Water Wayz said...

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Mike said...

Great account of the event Jeff. Who better to describe the weekend than the USA Ice team member that won the top honors. Welcome to the team! You are a great addition to our organization. Just want to let you know...once you compete at the World Championship.....well let's just say, drop what you're doing because this sport at this level will consume you're thoughts. Great job man!!!

Michael Thompson said...

Awsome report Jeff! Congrats!
I am going to try qualifying next year and am already practising this type of fishing!