By Steve Weisman
Only .3 of a pound separated the top two anglers at the Okoboji Hardwater Open on West Okoboji’s Little Emerson Bay on Sunday, January 13. With bluegill the target fish, Kyle Doonan from Storm Lake weighed a 10-bluegill limit weight of 5.6 pounds to take the title and a check for $496, while Josh Lowe of Worthington, MN took second place with a 10-bluegill weight of 5.3 pounds and a check for $352.
Dusty Rodiek of Mitchell, SD not only captured third place with a 10-bluegill weight of 4.88 pounds, but also won the Berkley Big Fish pot for a combined total of $536 along with $250 in Berkley and Fenwick merchandise for his .81-pound bluegill.
According to Teeg Stoufer, tournament director and founder of Recycled Fish, a total of 50 anglers from five states (Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota) competed for Okoboji Hardwater Open bragging rights. Of the 50 contestants, 29 brought 10-fish limits to the scales.
“Recycled Fish is honored to have anglers come from across the Midwest to fish the Okoboji Hardwater Open. I think this year we had one of the most talented groups of anglers anywhere across the ice belt. 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.”
Usually gin clear water is the norm on Little Emerson, but this year brought more stained water than usual, which made the sight fishing more of a challenge for the competitors. Still for the top three placers, being able to see the fish was a major key to their success. All three agreed that pre-fishing was very important in helping them develop their tournament strategy, but during pre-fishing, they only located the fish and did not catch them. During the competition, they all caught many more fish than the 10-fish limits they brought to the scales. However, they had to adjust their presentations to match the way the bluegills responded to their baits. Some fish were highly aggressive, while others were totally neutral and had to be induced to bite.
Both Doonan and Rodiek found their spots right away and stuck with them throughout the day, ironically only about 15 feet apart. Lowe, who won last year’s Okoboji Hardwater Open, chose to hole-hop instead of waiting for the bluegills to move through to him. Once he located them, though, he used the sight-fishing method to catch many of his fish.
Doonan used a variety of pre-rigged rods rotating them to find the bait that would trigger a bite. Best baits included tiny tungsten (Custom Spins and Jigs) jigs with either white or pink IceMite plastics or tipped with a wax worm.
Lowe’s best presentation came with a size 16 chartreuse Diamond jig tipped with either a red or white silver wiggler.
Rodiek’s best baits were either a tiny silver or gold jig tipped with two silver wigglers: one red and one white.
Stouffer concluded by thanking the community for its hospitality to the visiting anglers. “Camp Okoboji and Village West Resort, our two host sites, were both so accommodating and such great representatives of this community.”
Recycled Fish, the national non-profit organization of anglers living a Lifestyle of Stewardship both on and off the water, helps bring the Stewardship Ethic to life across the Ice Belt. Stouffer noted, “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. 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 (www.recycledfish.org) and at Recycled Fish events across North America.