Thousands of dollars’ worth of prizes were given away at Saturday’s second annual ice fishing tournament, sponsored by The Wild Hare and HD Outfitters.
More than 50 teams were released at 7 a.m. from the Lake View boat ramp on Lake Poinsett. They fished until 3 p.m. Each team’s score was based on the heaviest total weight of all perch and walleye caught, the two most common fish in the lake.
They sent out several small groups of teams periodically for maximum efficiency.
It only took seven minutes for more than 60 vehicles to launch and get settled on the ice, which is a huge accomplishment according to Hayden Hoeschler, co-owner of event sponsor HD Outfitters.
After the tournament was over, all teams packed up and headed home to await the Saturday night champions banquet and concert held at the Wild Hare.
At the banquet, contestants bought raffle tickets for prizes donated to the tournament by various sponsors. Some of the prizes included ice houses, guns, fishing poles, duck hunting decoy kits and snowboards.
The winning team of Sawyer Giese and Kellen Bucknell caught 14 perch weighing 11.29 pounds total. It’s their first year competing in this tournament, but 23-year-old Giese has been ice fishing for about 15 years, and 32-year-old Bucknell for about eight.
The winners walked away with the first place trophy and $1,000 prize. Giese also won a Yeti LoadOut bucket specifically outfitted for ice fishing from the prize raffle.
The -18 degree temperature didn’t stop some contestants from fishing the old fashioned way, simply sitting on buckets, but most teams had heated ice houses to keep warm.
“Once you get the ice house all set up and get the heater going, it’s not too bad out there,” said tournament participant and South Dakota State University graduate Erik Johnson.
The ice fishing tournament was established by a group including former SDSU students Hoelscher and Jorgen Dahl, who both work at the Wild Hare, but also run their own business. During their freshman year, Hoelscher and Dahl started HD Outfitters.
It started out as “two college kids just trying to do something,” Hoelscher said. They eventually acquired sponsors, such as Mojo Outdoors and Sitka, expanding their brand and making it an official retail store specializing in waterfowl hunting.
Hoelscher wanted to give hunters a reason to get outdoors in the off-season, so they temporarily shifted their focus from duck hunting to ice fishing.
Next year, the staff hopes to have a “flash sale” making registration cheaper for a period of time for college students. They accept contestants 18 years and older, but each team must have at least one member that is 21 years old.
Next year, HD Outfitters and the Wild Hare also plan to do more advertising in the summer to create more awareness of the event and make team registration available more than one month before the event in hopes of gaining more participation.
“We’re trying to build in an upward direction,” Hoelscher said. “We started with zero money in our budget, and now we got something to build on, so each year is just going to get bigger and bigger.”