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Amanda Steidl of Carlos shows off the 3.255-pound northern that won her $15,000 at the 2014 Ice Fishing Challenge on Lake L’Homme Dieu this past Saturday afternoon. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

Locals top the leaderboard

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There were plenty of local anglers at the top of the leaderboard for the 2014 Alexandria Sertoma Ice Fishing Challenge, and Amanda Steidl of Carlos stood above all the nearly 1,200 anglers that took to the ice on Lake L’Homme Dieu on Saturday afternoon.

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Steidl, 25, has fished in the IFC almost every year, and she was rewarded for her persistence when she latched into a 3.255-pound northern almost 45 minutes into the tournament. She was fishing in about 10 feet of water when the fish grabbed a hold of her shiner minnow.

“I was using a large, white flipper with a pink leaf with sparkles on top,” Steidl said. “My brother would call it an ugly rig because he can’t believe I catch fish on it, but I do.”

Steidl knew she had a nice fish from the moment it hit.

“You could feel the weight,” she said. “It was a guaranteed hook, and it came right up the hole. It is pretty sweet [to win] considering I fish it all the time.”

Steidl kept things in perspective over the final two-plus hours as she waited to see if her lead would hold.

“I was very calm,” she said of waiting out those final hours. “Everybody was like, ‘Why aren’t you excited? You just won $15,000, and I was like, there’s two and a half hours left. A lot can happen.’ ”

Steidl’s lead did last and so did the 2.74-pound northern that won second place for Alexandria’s Tom Schonauer. The 28-year-old lived on Lake L’Homme Dieu with his girlfriend a couple years ago and the two have gotten to know the lake pretty well.

“We fish it pretty regularly during the winter,” Schonauer said. “I’m laid off during the winter and she only works very little during the winter, so we fish pretty much every other day, if not three or four times a week.”

That knowledge of the lake paid off on Saturday. He was out on the ice at 8 a.m. to make sure he gave himself a chance to set up in a hole that he knew was near a weed line in about 14 feet of water.

“The only advantage that I think I might have is I pretty much understand about how the fish move around under the water column, where I might find more fish,” Schonauer said. “I normally fish right on the weed lines, as close as I can get to it.”

Schonauer didn’t have to wait long as he latched into the fish just minutes into the tournament. He then spent parts of the final hour checking the leaderboard hoping he would stick in second place. It was close as Miltona’s Bruce Amundson came in with a northern in the final half hour that came just short of knocking him out of second.

“I’m just totally pumped,” Schonauer said of taking home the $5,000 prize. “It’s an experience of a lifetime. I never once thought this would happen. It finally did, and it’s just great.”

Local anglers made up the entire top four as Amundson finished third with a 2.730-pound northern that earned him $2,500. Alexandria’s Marvin Mackedanz then took fourth with a 2.515-pound northern.

The biggest walleye of the day was caught by Scott Gefre of Wahpeton, North Dakota. He finished ninth overall with a 1.98-pound walleye that he caught in the final hour of the tournament. There were more than 200 fish caught in all.

“Absolutely, we were happy with that,” IFC Chairman Anthony Zimny said “We were able to give out 100 prizes and the biggest one being three pounds. Sometimes it’s bigger than that, but to have a handful of those two-plus pound fish, that’s always kind of fun.”

The overall number of participants this year was down from where they normally have been. There were other tournaments going on around the state, including an ice-fishing derby in Detroit Lakes.

But the biggest competition for drawing anglers might have come from the first-ever Ice Castle Classic on Lac qui Parle Lake on Saturday. An update on their website said they caught just five fish, but that there were nearly 4,000 people on the ice.

“I just think with Ice Castle having one the same day, that’s where we saw the impact, especially since we’ve been consistently over 2,000 people every year, at least as far as our records show back to 2005,” Zimny said. “Plus, Lac qui Parle is not that far from here.”

The cold weather that has hit the area over much of this winter was a concern leading up to the IFC on Saturday. But those who came out on Lake L’Homme Dieu were greeted by sun, almost no wind and temperatures in the low teens for much of the afternoon.

“It was absolutely great,” Zimny said. “The number of contestants was down, which doesn’t help, but overall everything else went great. You can’t compete with Ice Castle. We’re not blaming them or anything, but what do you do? That’s always been the struggle is there’s some things that are out of your control.”

Heather Nelson took home the top raffle prize of $5,000. Ernest Rohde got the second-place raffle prize of $1,000 and Ryan Baron won $500. A total of $35,000 was handed out through fish caught with the top 100 on the leaderboard all taking home some money.

All the money raised in the Sertoma Ice Fishing Challenge goes to benefit local charities in the area.

2014 ICE FISHING CHALLENGE

TOP-10 FINISHERS (Complete list can be seen at www.icefishingchallenge.org) – 1. Steidl – northern, 3.255 pounds, $15,000; 2. Schonauer – northern, 2.740 pounds, $5,000; 3. Amundson – northern, 2.730 pounds, $2,500; 4. Marvin Mackedanz – northern, 2.515 pounds, $100; 5. Cash Johnson – northern, 2.500 pounds, $100; 6. Mark Brekke – northern, 2.455 pounds, $100; 7. Mike Engstrom – northern, 2.235 pounds, $100; 8. Scott Gefre – walleye, 1.980 pounds, $100; 9. Kayla Andreasen – northern, 1.975 pounds, $100; 10. Cullen Captain – northern, 1.900 pounds, $250

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Eric Morken
Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.
(320) 763-1229
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