By Steve Weisman
Recycled Fish, the national non-profit organization of “anglers living a Lifestyle of Stewardship both on and off the water,” is offering ice anglers two “Hardwater Open Tournaments” in Iowa. The Okoboji Hardwater Open is in Northwest Iowa on January 12-13 and the Big Creek Hardwater Open is in Central Iowa on January 26-27. The first day of both events is designated as pre-fishing day with an “Ice Bash” party and rules meeting that evening, followed by the tournament on the following day.
Teeg Stouffer, who founded Recycled Fish in 2003, notes that each tournament offers anglers a unique look at the sport of ice fishing. “The Okoboji Hardwater Open is held in Little Emerson Bay on West Okoboji. It’s known for its gin clear water, so anglers get the opportunity to actually see the fish they are fishing for. It is also an individual tournament with an entry limit set at 65 anglers.” The target species is bluegills only, and competitors bring just 10 live bluegills to the scales.
Meanwhile, the Big Creek Hardwater Open is designated as a team tournament. “Big Creek gives anglers the opportunity to fish with a partner. Big Creek does not have the water clarity of West Okoboji, so anglers will rely on their flashers and underwater cameras,” said Stouffer. “For this tournament, teams bring in their best combination of five bluegills and five crappies.”
Entry fee is $65 per individual at Okoboji and $65 per team at Big Creek. Top anglers take home more than cash. They take home the coveted “piece of ice” trophies, which have built-in bragging rights. The Optional Berkley Big Fish Pot is an additional $5. The winner at the Okoboji Open will take home the entire pot plus $250 in Berkley and Fenwick merchandise, while the winners at the Big Creek open will take home the entire pot plus $250 in Berkley and Fenwick merchandise for each angler.
“Recycled Fish is excited to return to each body of water with these tournaments,” said Stouffer. “Our goal is to make a weekend of it for the anglers and the community. These events help fund our mission – to engage, educate and equip anglers to be better stewards of our waters both on and off the water. Saturday is the pre-fishing day, and we will serve all contestants a hot lunch around noon, right on the ice, provided by one of our contestants, Mike Wanser, owner of Wanser Auction Service in Nebraska. That evening, everybody comes together for the Ice Bash, which includes rules and safety, but it also features a silent auction and a bunch of door prizes. Nobody leaves empty handed!”
Sunday, of course, is the big day with inspection starting at 6:30 a.m., with the tournament beginning at 8 a.m. All fish must be caught and brought to the weigh-in station by 2 p.m.
Contact information: Ben Leal, Tournament Director
A Look at each tournament
“Although there is money involved for the top teams, the anglers really covet the trophies awarded to the top three. With the trophy, the anglers get their own ‘Piece of the Ice’, “ notes Stouffer.
Little Emerson has been the site for the Okoboji Hardwater Open for the last seven years. Initially, northwest Iowa guide Ryan Hale ran the tournament, but Recycled Fish took over four years ago. “We usually have between 50-60 anglers.” Last year 32 anglers brought in 10-bluegill limits with only .02 of a pound separating the top two individuals. Josh Lowe from Brewster, MN had a weight of 5.74 pounds, while Blaine Fopma from Sioux Falls, SD had 5.72 pounds. The Berkley Big Fish award went to John Grosvenor from Spirit Lake with a .84 – ounce bluegill, while Brett Sichmeller brought in a.82-ounce bluegill for runner-up.
Meanwhile, a warm winter led to unsafe ice conditions for the Big Creek Hardwater Open in 2012. In 2011, 18 teams brought in five bluegills, but only 5 teams were able to bring in 5 crappies. Dave and Justin Humpal from Monroe, IA took first place with a 10-fish weight of 5.1 pounds, while Michael Riley from Des Moines, IA and Tim Elliott from Des Moines, IA took second place with a 10-fish weight of 5.0 pounds. Big fish weight was .70 ounces.
According to Stouffer, the Recycled Fish “On Ice” Tour presented by Ice Team is about living a lifestyle of stewardship for our waters. All of the Recycled Fish “On Ice” Tour events – including the Hardwater Opens – help bring the Stewardship Ethic to life across the Ice Belt. Stewardship by definition is: one who is in charge, manages, attends to. As anglers, it’s important for each of us to become a steward, a manager, an attendant. Our waters belong to all of us, and as stewards we defend them. Protect them.
Recycled Fish is the force that ties us all together, providing resources and education on how to become better stewards.
Stouffer notes that Recycled Fish is the only non-profit organization that talks to all anglers everywhere about the problems facing all of our waters. There are great species specific groups (Trout Unlimited, B.A.S.S. Conservation, Muskies Inc.) and great watershed groups (Great Lakes United, James River Basin Partnership, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance) but no organization for all anglers everywhere about the problems, and how we can solve them. “None,” he points out, “Except Recycled Fish.”
Over 14,000 anglers from all 50 states and 20 countries have taken the Sportsman’s Stewardship Pledge and joined Recycled Fish. It’s free at the Recycled Fish website, and at Recycled Fish events across North America.
“Everybody wants to do the right thing, if they know what the right thing to do is. We have a Stewardship on Ice booklet that has become the playbook for ice fishing ethics,” says Stouffer.
To learn more and become a steward, go to www.recycledfish.org.