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The thumbs up and down of ice fishing

The recent warm weather could create good late season fishing activity. Anglers looking to land a northern, bass, sauger or walleye like this one have only through Feb. 27 to legally target them.

The good and bad attributes of ice fishing emerged this past week.

Heavy snow cover, flooding and slush have made travel difficult. Coupled with teetering temperatures and unstable barometric pressure ice fishing has become somewhat unpredictable.

Take, for instance, last Saturday's 11th annual Alexandria Ice Fishing Challenge held on Lake Agnes.

With 2,200 anglers competing for $60,000 in prizes including a $10,000 top prize for the biggest fish entered, the leader board should have been filled. Area Fisheries Supervisor Dean Beck said the lake was well stocked with fish and had a good supply of oxygen.

Yet nobody caught anything.

Even the smallest fish imaginable could have brought home the top cash prize.

Organizers ended up with somewhat of a conundrum when deciding what to do with all of the unearned prizes. Without a raffle permit, they were unable to award the booty. Even if they had a raffle permit, it still would've been illegal due to compliance with several rules of the Minnesota Gambling Board.

For instance, many of the participants were under 18 years of age and raffle tickets can't be purchased by minors in Minnesota. Numerous tickets were given away in various promotions and raffle tickets cannot be given away in Minnesota. And all of the tickets in a raffle need to be sold for the same price in Minnesota. The Ice Fishing Challenge tickets had been sold at a discount of $25 for the first 25 days they were sold.

On a positive note, at least tournament officials can feel proud they thwarted all cheaters. Obviously nobody snuck in a fish or illegally caught one.

The Ice Fishing Challenge officials decided to "roll-over" the prizes for next season's event - which will be held on a different lake.

Another thumbs-down to Mother Nature for this weekend's 32nd annual International Eelpout Festival on Leech Lake in Walker.

Due to poor ice and travel conditions, the Cass County Sheriff's department issued a decree allowing only snowmobiles or class 1 or 2 ATVs on the ice between Friday (yesterday) at 8 a.m. through 3 p.m. Sunday.

That means anglers who would typically set up their 'pout camp using 4x4 trucks will have to adjust.

Undoubtedly, there will still be plenty of festivities and fanfare despite the travel restriction.

In fact, the festival's website states, "We have attracted the attention of a certain late-night national media that will be attending the event. They will be looking for the usual fun associated with the Festival, so this is not the time to hold back! Adapt and overcome hardy pouters!"

Another bit of optimism arrives during the annual Take-a-Kid Ice Fishing weekend, running today through Monday, Feb. 21.

Adults accompanying a youth angler under the age of 16 can legally angle without a current Minnesota fishing license.

There is no fee or registration, simply take a youngster out on one of Minnesota's beautiful lakes to introduce a child in the time-honored tradition of ice fishing. They'll thank you for a lifetime!