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Inaugural Ice Fishing Derby Draws Dozens Of Hearty Anglers

First place winner Jeremy Dotson with his trout (pic: Cleveland MetroParks)
First place winner Jeremy Dotson with his trout (pic: Cleveland MetroParks)

Cleveland MetroParks’ aquatic biologist, Mike Durkalec and I ride across the lake with the help of an amphibious ATV fitted with caterpillar treads.

The stark whiteness is only broken up by a few dozen shanties and tents…though igloos would look right at home here. We arrived in the afternoon. Some fishing crews had quit early. Durkalec remains chipper.

"We made a nice little bit of extra money for our fishing fund," says Durkalec. "The fishing fund funds a combination of purchasing fish that we stock for park, public fisheries. To put it into perspective in 2014, about 30 percent of the fish that we stock for the entire year came out of this fund.”

Last week, MetroParks crews were busy cutting holes into area lakes and dumping several thousand pounds of trout into them.

Wallace Lake got the lion’s share…though try telling that to Shawn Flannagan and his friend, Ed Sopko.

“A thousand pounds of trout went into Wallace Lake…and we’ve caught…none,” says Flannagan, as both men then laugh.

"So there’s still like 999 and a half pounds of trout in this lake,” smiles Sopko.

The two friends huddle in a thick, staked-down tent, where they’ve been staring at four opaque, greenish holes cut into the ice for hours. Flannagan says it’s almost a spiritual experience.

“Fishing in these elements and staring into a deep, dark hole….it is zen like. And it’s….it warms you inside just being in this type of atmosphere.”

“Not that you’d be opposed to catching something.” I say.

“That would be a bonus, so that’s probably why we’ll stop at the fish market on the way home and just let our wives know, “Look what we caught.’”

A couple hundred feet away, Bob Bruner and his son-in-law, Kevin Kemp, dunk a special camera into the water. Moments later, a rainbow trout – maybe a 10-incher – lumbers across a black and white monitor.

“It’s a…called ‘Fish TV’. I bought it on eBay about a week ago,” says Bruner.

“I was pretty much forced to come,” says Kemp, as others around him chuckle. "I’ve got my headphones in so I’m listening to music. It’s cool, it’s peaceful. I like it."

"You don’t have to listen to me!” chides Bruner.

"Kinda put a mix on, it’s Pandora, so not even sure what I’m listening to now,” resumes Kemp.

Bruner loves ice-fishing, even if it the trout aren’t playing. He says being out in nature helps him past a recent tragedy.

“Uh, today…is kind of a mixed day for me. My father passed away last Monday. He wasn’t much of a fisherman, but he’s the one who introduced me to this. And…ah….this is for you, Dad.”

Bob Cassidy is making the derby a father-son experience. His son, Shawn, who is deaf….has hooked several fish.

“Today…I caught like…five.”

The secret? A lure known as the Swedish Pimple, an oval, metallic jigging lure. Bob demonstrates.

“See my lure going up and down? That’s my lure there, every time I jig it, it goes up and then it flutters back down. The movement draws them in," explains the elder Cassidy.

And ice fishing is for lovers, too. At least several couples came out to brave the arctic conditions….including Jim Hughey and Ashley Mowen. They got engaged two months ago, and fishing’s been a part of their courtship.

“I got one trout, she got a bunch of bluegill. And we got one crappie today, too," says Hughey.

“He’s using a minnow, and I’m using lax worms, and maggots,” giggles Mowen.

By day’s end, the winning trout was nearly 15 inches long.

And the net gain for Cleveland MetroParks? Just over $1600. A decent catch for an icy day, where the intense cold bit harder than the fish.