An extravaganza on ice

COLEHARBOR – It lasted only four hours, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but the event sponsored by the Bis-Man Reel and Rec Association lived up to its billing as an “Ice Fishing Extravaganza.” Over 300 participants registered to try their luck through the ice for perch, walleye and northern pike at Lake Audubon Feb. 8.

“It’s a wonderful day. It’s beautiful. Zero degrees, no wind, and sunshine,” said Roger Collins, Bismarck, shortly after bringing a nice pike to the official weigh-in station. The fish tipped the scale at just over 8 pounds.

“I caught this one on a tip-up using smelt in about 16 feet,” added Collins.

Collins brought his fish to the scale shortly after Ken Salwey of Bismarck had weighed in the biggest pike of the day, only to see it topped by Collins’ catch.

“We threw some dead sticks out, hoping to catch a big pike and get entered into the competition. This one grabbed a smelt in 20 to 22 feet,” said Salwey. “The ice is close to 4 feet thick. We’ve seen a couple of perch come by the camera but that’s about it.”

Still, Salwey’s pike was a good one by any standards. It weighed slightly less than 7 pounds.

“We try to fish this tournament every year,” said Salwey. “It’s a nice day for a tournament. Audubon gets to be a little city in the wintertime.”

With excellent access to the ice and cooperative weather, Lake Audubon resembled a good-sized community on the ice. Nearly 300 fishermen registered and participated in the event. They joined hundreds other regulars, making Lake Audubon a very busy place.

“There’s people from Minot, Bismarck, Underwood, Garrison, Turtle Lake, Hazen, Velva, you name it,” said Wayne Blohm, Bismarck. “All the surrounding areas come out to support the club.”

Blohm, a Bis-Man Reel and Rec member, was handling the official weigh-in scale for the event. He was a busy man too, especially as the noon hour approached. He estimated at least 70 fish had been brought to the scale in the first two hours.

“For each fish that is weighed in, we give out a raffle ticket to the kids,” explained Blohm. “Any kid that catches a fish get a prize. It’s a fun thing to do. Our proceeds from this event go to Take A Kid Fishing the first weekend in June.”

Brian Olsen, Bismarck, club president, said the event was in its 29th year. That makes it one of the longest-running fishing events in North Dakota. Through it all, Bis-Man has been able to keep the emphasis of the event on young fishermen.

“We keep it simple so everybody can fish and have some fun and enjoy the day,” said Olsen during the tourney. “This year is probably one of our better turnouts. It’s great. We have approximately 700 members in our club. Money here goes to our big June project, Take A Kid Fishing. We’ve got a lot of good people and it’s really fun.”

“It’s a fun tournament and family-oriented. That’s what our club is,” said Don Schick, Bismarck, tourney chairman. “We’ve got 50-some door prizes to give away later.”

Headquarters for the Ice Fishing Extravaganza was Knights Restaurant and Lounge in Riverdale, a move necessitated by ongoing improvements under way at the Totten Trail on Lake Audubon. The event has headquartered out of the Totten Trail in previous years.

A Wisconsin native stationed at Minot Air Force Base, Jason Eilo, approached the weigh-in trailer shortly before noon the day of the event with a smile on his face and a large pike in a five-gallon bucket. The pike tipped the scale at 10.7 pounds, giving him the lead at the time it was weighed.

“I was just sitting in the ice shack and looked outside and the tip-up was up,” said Eilo. “The pike spooled the whole thing. I brought him up. It happened to be this big guy.”

Eilo said the pike put up a pretty good fight before finally being pulled through the ice. The pike took a smelt in about 15 feet of water.

When the four-hour tourney came to a close, the final tally of fish that were weighed was 56 perch, 42 walleyes and five northern pike.