By David Fleet
On Feb. 24-26 teams from across the globe gathered on frozen Lake Mazais Baltezers, in eastern Latvia for the 14th annual World Ice Fishing Championship. Latvia is between the Baltic Sea and Russia.
This year the U.S.team, which included five from Michigan along with anglers from Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and North Dakota, finished eighth overall of 14 teams.
Kelly Gotch, a 1998 Brandon High School graduate and Ortonville native who has traveled with the team as a media producer since 2009, said the word is going around that other countries now respect the U.S. team due to overwhelming progress at mastering European rules and techniques.
“The first few years of competition the other teams were just entertained by the United States,” said Gotch. “Now it’s an even playing field. We have learned so much over the years about how to compete at the high level.”
Gotch, a Central Michigan University graduate and former co-host and associate producer of Michigan Out-of-Doors, said there is nothing but love for the American team.
“It’s all good until the teams get out on the ice and then it’s about winning the gold medal,” she said.
In addition to the host country Latvia, teams from Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Mongolia participated
“Every second counts,” said Gotch. “It is important to stress that world competition is not as much about size of fish, but mostly about speed, finesse and strategy. You must figure out how to continuously catch. It is not easy.”
In the world championship there are no electronics, all holes are drilled by hand (no gas augers) and many anglers use one-pound test line.
“They all hand line,” she said.
When the U.S. team started we had ice fishing rods and reels. Now it’s extremely small gear called palm rods along with very small mormyschka (jigs).”
“In Latvia they caught perch— similar to our yellow perch, but with a purplish color. Overall the fish are smaller and they use a technique called feeding to catch fish. They use feed, like blood worms, to drop in the hole that’s natural to the lake.”
The try-outs to make the 2018 U.S. Ice Fishing team will be held this month at Holiday Acres Resort in Rhinelander, Wis.