Hand drill 50 holes through 40 inches of ice as fast as you can, and what do you have? Besides intense chest pain, you also have a picture of The World Ice Fishing Championship (WIFC), in which Team U.S.A. will be competing Feb. 16-17 on the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir near Wausau.
“It is a very athletic event. It’s all-out sprinting from hole to hole, as many as you can catch in three hours,” said Brian Gaber, U.S.A. Ice Team Head Coach and Rhinelander resident. Only hand drills are allowed. “We are working with the International Freshwater Fishing Association to make it an Olympic sport.”
To maintain speed, heavy Sorrels with liners give way to sponsor-donated Power Boots from Sweden that weigh less than two pounds each. Footwear isn’t the only change made since the team first came together in 2009.
“The first year we competed, in Poland, it was like we landed on Mars. Our gear was too big, everything was wrong,” Gaber said.
Team U.S.A. went from dead last in 2009 to taking home the gold in 2010 when the WIFC was held in Rhinelander. “Fishing on home ice is always an advantage,” Gaber said. “But the team also has been making modifications. We’ve had to downsize everything It’s been a trick to change the way we do things to do it well. Many of the people we compete with eat two-thirds of what they catch. These are the best finesse anglers in the world.”
The typical American ice fishing pole is more than twice as long as a Palm Rod, what is used in Europe and Asia. Their jig is much smaller, too. They fish from their knees, six inches from the water, Gaber said. As soon as they set the hook, they throw the rod and pull the line in with their hands.
The competition for the few spots on the teams from Europe and Asia shows the popularity of the event: Russia and Poland had 100,000 people compete for a spot on each of their teams, according to Gaber. In the United States, 50 competed and 11 were selected. Members of Team U.S.A. are from states spanning South Dakota to New York.
“All ice belt people,” Gaber said.
The team has an assistant coach, Jason Gruett, also from Rhinelander, and a delegate from Minneapolis who communicates with all the other teams. “He is fluent in multiple languages, and attends the international meetings held in Rome each year. In September, they approved the location for the WIFC in 2013-Wisconsin again. We had to bid on it, like the Olympics,” Gaber said.
In 2011 it was hosted by Ukraine, and Kazakhstan in 2012. The U.S. team did not place those years, but has high hopes for this year. They will be facing teams from Belarus, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, England, Estonia, Finland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Republic of Moldova, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. The event is hosted by the U.S. Freshwater Fishing Federation along with the city of Wausau.
“There is fierce competition between the top teams-the Russians, the Poles and the Ukrainians-in part because of geopolitical conflicts between countries,” Gaber said. “But there is also this camaraderie because of the common denominator. Last year the Russians gave us a bunch of their Palm Rods.”
The competition is a two-day event in a fishing zone divided into five grids that are each the size of a football field. One person from each country/team fishes each grid.
Gabor utilizes the tools of his business, Outdoor Technologies, LLC, to get detailed information about the underwater habitat of the grids.
Started in 2002 with his wife Sheri, Outdoor Technologies, LLC, uses advanced geographic information systems (GIS) and sonar technologies to give a clear picture of what is under the water.
“The side image sonar unit sees the bottom of the lake as if the water is gone…you see everything: rocks, stumps, logs, fish and it digitizes all of it,” Sheri said.
For the Big Eau Pleine, Sheri reviewed more than 20 gigabytes of logged sonar data to identify key cover and bottom types on the lake. All the information will contribute to the game plan development for Team U.S.A., Gaber said.
They also use the technology to set up the boundaries of where the competition will be, with a goal of making sure there are key structures in every grid. “After the boundaries of the zone are set, we gather data around the grid, not in it,” Gaber said. The grids are closely guarded before competition.
“Once the competition starts, everyone mobs onto their grid at the same time. [In 2010] other teams sent their members where we were because [as the home team] we had the advantage,” Gaber said. He considers their tactics when making decisions about strategy, but doesn’t subscribe to it.
“We don’t follow people around; we make data-based decisions. Our play book looks like an NFL Sunday game plan; nothing is left to chance.”
Interested in trying out for the 2014 U.S.A. ice team?
An informational meeting and registration will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 7, at Holiday Acres. The USA Ice Team tryouts are similar to the international competition, a two-day event in a fishing zone divided into grids. There will be two open heats for anyone wanting to try out, starting Saturday, March 9. The 2014 team will be announced after the event concludes on Sunday afternoon. Team member names will also be broadcast from the team’s USTREAM channel (http://www.usaiceteam.com/).
The 2014 competition will be in Belarus.
Follow the U.S.A. Ice Team on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/USA-Ice-Team/318429564835351