BUFFALO CITY, Wis. -Some of them sat huddled outside with their lines in the water, patiently waiting for a bite. Others reclined and waited in the luxury of their oversized ice shantys decked out with TVs, radios and heaters.
"It's almost like being at home," said Jim Scherr of Trempealeau, Wis., one of the lucky ice fishers - despite not catching any fish - who enjoyed the competition without fearing frostbite.
The Cochrane Buffalo City Lions Club hosted its first ice fishing tournament Saturday on Spring Lake in Buffalo City. Cash prizes were awarded in the amounts of $75, $50 and $25 to the top three competitors in the categories of northern pike, blue gill and perch. The heaviest fish in each category determined the winners.
More than 500 people transformed the lake into a small village of ice shacks and pick-up trucks.
"There's definitely more of a crowd than we expected," said Matt Michaels, one of the brains behind the operation.
Michaels, 28, said he developed the idea of hosting the tournament as a way to promote the fishing bait sold at his parent's convenience store in Buffalo City.
The store sold out of its 500 tickets Saturday morning, and all of its bait disappeared by 9:30 a.m., Michaels said.
The large crowd included enthusiastic beginners and advanced anglers.
Jacki Schultz, a Winona State University student from Miami, tried ice fishing for the first time Saturday with her nephew, Tyler Hanson.
"It's beyond cold," she said, "but it's so much fun."
The fish didn't bite for Schultz, but she didn't mind leaving empty handed.
"We're having the time of our lives," she said.
O-fish-al tournament results listed Jim Stanton's 8.13 pound catch as winner of the northern pike category.
He turned his fish into the weigh station with just a half hour to spare. Officials immediately recognized its potential.
"I think that's going to be a $75 fish," said Bruce Anderson, a Lions Club member.
"A little later in the year they'll come up bigger," he said, "but this time of year that's a really good size."
Josh Benning's 0.56 pound blue gill and Danny Piel's 1.38 pound perch took top honors in the remaining categories.
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