Area ice fishermen have a much better year for the popular winter sport than they did last year, and theyâ€™ll get a chance to participate in a derby this weekend at Lake Ashtabula.
The new owners at Ashtabula Crossing are gearing up for their first annual ice fishing tournament this weekend.
Patty Hoff, who owns the resort and restaurant located at the East Lake Ashtabula crossing with her husband Scott and sister Mary Jean Cuffe, said, â€śweâ€™ve had lots of people requesting to have tournament here, so we did.â€ť
Hoff said, â€śThe past couple years ice fishing hasnâ€™t been very good because there hasnâ€™t been very good ice. Since the ice is nice and drivable (this year) people want to get out on the ice.â€ť
Gene Van Eekhout, district fishing supervisor for North Dakota Game and Fish, said, â€śWe started out with very good ice this year. Thatâ€™s always a critical ingredient, and we havenâ€™t had much snow, so we havenâ€™t had much of a problem.â€ť
Eekhout said last yearâ€™s ice was not only poor in terms of thickness but â€śwe had open water all year long,â€ť meaning there were parts of lakes that had not froze.
To take advantage of the thicker ice this year, anglers can get out on Lake Ashtabula during a catch-and-release fishing tournament Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. Prizes will be awarded by weight for walleyes, northern pikes and perch.
â€śThe walleye is the tough one to get,â€ť Hoff said. â€śPerch and northern are more aggressive, and walleye are a little bit more finicky.â€ť
The first place prize for walleye is $300. The second place winner will receive a Vexlar handheld sonar, and the third place winner will receive an Eskimo ice chair.
The first-place prize for the northern contest is an Eskimo power auger, the second-place prize is a Stansport heater lantern combo, and the third-place prize is an HT Polar rod and reel.
The person who catches the heaviest perch will win an Eskimo three-man portable Quickfish ice house. The second-place prize is an Eskimo ice chair, and the third place prize is a Phlugo micro ice combo rod and reel.
The cost to enter the tournament is $10 per hole, and thereâ€™s a four hole limit. Hoff said theyâ€™ll have raffle prizes, donated from area businesses, throughout the fishing tournament.
Before the tournament starts, at 10 a.m., theyâ€™ll have a hole drilling contest, in menâ€™s and womenâ€™s divisions.
â€śItâ€™s just a contest to see how fast they can drill holes,â€ť Hoff said. The entry cost is $5, and thereâ€™s 100 percent payback. Sign up is at 9:30 a.m.
Anglers also have the opportunity to participate in a contest, guessing when a car will sink through the lake.
â€śWe have a car sitting on the ice, and we have a raffle inside to guess to see when that car will sink,â€ť she said, adding, â€śThose proceeds go to the wildlife club.â€ť
Guessers pick the month and day they believe the ice will melt enough to sink the car.
Also, Hoff said, there will be food, refreshments and â€śa little ice house with bait and bare necessities.â€ť
The Ashtabula Crossing restaurant will serve brunch starting at 10 a.m., and after the tournament, theyâ€™ll have a prime rib dinner.
The proceeds from the derby will go to the fireworks association, which puts on a fireworks display on the Fourth of July at the crossing.
Hoff said ice fishing is very popular around the area, so she expects a good turnout for this tournament, just like others held recently.
â€śThe Barnes County Wildlife Club had a tournament up in Sibley in January, and event though it was probably the coldest day of the year, they had a great turnout. People had a lot of fun,â€ť she said.
The crossing plans to host a family fishing derby the end of June too.