Big fish, little fish, prize fish
Chad Malvin of Carlos doesn't usually fish for northerns through the ice, but on Saturday, he was willing to make an exception.
"On a day like today, I put down a big jig with a big [shiner] minnow, hoping," he said. "Because I knew a smaller northern is a bigger fish in this tournament."
Malvin was exactly right, and in the Alexandria Sertoma Club's Ice Fishing Challenge, his go-big-or-go-home approach netted him the $20,000 top prize for a northern weighing in at 3.91 pounds. Malvin hadn't even gotten his line all the way down when the fish grabbed hold.
"I was about [peeing] my pants," Malvin said. "I didn't know what to think because I knew it was a big fish, and I knew it was going to break my line. About 30 seconds after I got the head up, it broke my line off, and I grabbed it right behind the neck and pulled it up."
That was just minutes after the tournament kicked off. Malvin registered the fish at 12:07 p.m. and then proceeded to wait through almost three tense hours of leader-board watching. His dad, Dave Malvin, spent a lot of time in the weigh-in tent and kept him posted.
Chris Stassen of Marshall pushed him the hardest with a northern weighing 3.285 pounds for a $5,000 payday. Alexandria's Allen Wittrock rounded out the top three with a 3.185-pound northern that earned him $2,500. The top 34 fish all weighed in more than a pound.
More than 1,900 anglers took to the ice in hopes of winning part of the $40,000 fishing payout. A total of $9,800 was handed out through a raffle, as well. Alexandria's Nicole Nettleton earned the top raffle prize of $5,000, while Nicole Lewelyn took home $1,000 for second. Complete results of the top 100 fish caught and the raffle winners can be seen at www.icefishingchallenge.org.
The overall number of anglers was down from more than 3,500 people a year ago. Last year's tournament drew a big crowd with more money being added to the pot after anglers didn't catch any fish on Lake Agnes in 2011.
The number of anglers didn't meet last year's total but the bite on Lake L'Homme Dieu was strong with a few bigger fish caught. This year's tournament chair, Alan Iverson, said almost 300 fish were caught in all. Malvin's fish outweighed last year's biggest catch by more than a pound after Brandon, South Dakota native Larry Franke won the top prize with a 2.71-pound northern.
"Honestly, everything went very good," Iverson said. "I was totally thrilled with how many fish were caught. It's more exciting to be having a chance to get on the board and bring home some cash."
Professional angler Mike Frisch kicked off the day by hosting a youth-fishing expo with almost 20 children ages 16 and younger. A handful of fish were caught in that before the tournament got started at noon.
"That was really exciting for the kids," Iverson said. "Just watching that, kind of made my day. That's what it's all about, letting families come together and just getting people outdoors...so many people just kind of step up and help out throughout the community to help pull this event off."
The money raised at the challenge goes to help local charities in the area. The tournament website states that organizers have put more than $86,000 back into the community since 2004.
They also helped put a lot of money into the pocket of Malvin and a host of other anglers on Saturday. Hoisting the $20,000 check was a dream heading into the day for the 23-year-old from Carlos. Now that it's reality, he knows exactly what he'll do with the money.
"I was absolutely out here to have a good time," Malvin said. "I didn't think in a million years that I would have the luck to win the tournament...I've got a family to take care of. I'm going to pay a little bit of the mortgage off. I'm going to take care of the family, so it will be a good deal."