A good day on the lake

Lake Benton Sportsman’s Club has annual ice fishing tournament

Photo by Jenny Kirk Upon special request by a group of children, organizer Matt Eickhoff holds up a northern, nearly 6 pounds and eventually crowned the largest of the day, during the 4th annual Lake Benton Ice Fishing Tournament on Saturday. Pictured from left are: Grady Eickhoff, Quinn Slegers, Brody Eickhoff and Colesen Slegers.

LAKE BENTON — While not everyone caught a fish, it appeared that a good time was had anyway as people of all ages took part in the 4th annual Lake Benton Ice Fishing Tournament sponsored by Lake Benton Sportsman’s Club on Saturday.

More than 250 fish were caught and prizes worth several thousands of dollars were given away during the increasingly-popular winter event.

“It went awesome,” organizer Matt Eickhoff said. “We had 518 registrants and 268 fish registered. It’s the most people we’ve ever had and the most fish that have ever been caught in the tournament.”

Long before 10 a.m., fish houses were scattered all over the west end of Lake Benton as people got ready to take part in the fishing tournament. According to Eickhoff, more than 75 houses were already set up by mid-afternoon on Friday.

To make sure people only registered fish caught between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday, every fish house was examined prior to the start of the tournament.

“We had five or six guys checking all the fish houses in the morning,” volunteer Lisa Willert said. “People were catching some very nice walleyes during the night. But most of the day (on Saturday), it’s been perch.”

Luke Huls was likely the happiest of all the anglers as he came away the biggest fish caught, which was a 5-pound, 14-ounce northern. Huls took home the $2,890 cash prize for his effort.

“That’s the big money one,” Eickhoff said. “That’s the one everyone comes for.”

Along with prizes given out throughout the tournament, there were prizes awarded for smallest fish, biggest walleye, last fish registered and largest perch.

“The biggest perch was 1 pound, 11 ounces and was caught by Wyatt Stueven,” said Lindsey Johnson, who recorded all the fish that were brought to the weigh-in station throughout the day. “The biggest walleye was 1 pound, 4 ounces and it was a tie between Jason Thomas and Mike Johnson.”

Thomas won the tiebreaker and received a Mr. Buddy heater along with a fillet knife. Johnson got a minnow bait bucket and a fillet knife.

The smallest fish prize went to Alex Schoeneman for his 2 ounce perch. He won a 5-person guided pheasant hunt near Lake Benton. Mark Birch, who registered the last fish of the day, took home $100.

In a separate raffle, Dave Rubin won the fish house.

Russell resident Barb Drown and Lake Benton native Darin Herschberger didn’t win any big prizes but were both happy to have caught a perch during the tournament.

“I had a super good time and it was such a beautiful day,” Drown said.

Herschberger said he also enjoyed the fishing derby.

“It was a nice tournament,” he said. “The (Lake Benton) Sportsman’s Club did a really good job. Kudos to them.”

Some groups weren’t as fortunate.

“Nothing,” Sean Marron said when asked if he’d caught anything.

“We haven’t even seen very many,” Jordan Marron added.

Nearby, Dean and Connie Maeyaert and their grandchildren, 9-year-old Taven and 5-year-old Ava, along with Barry Walther and Shelly and Kevin Onken, hadn’t gotten so much as a bite.

“Taven has been doing a good job of checking all the pop-ups, though,” Shelly Onken said. “He’s the man in charge.”

The group used an open trailer as a central meeting spot where they could all enjoy snacks and beverages while they waited for the fish to bite.

“Who needs fish when you have all this stuff,” Dean Maeyaert said. “It’s a good day for this.”

Groups of children periodically got together as well throughout the tournament. Brady Jandl, Hailey Erickson, Kamryn Smit, Kya Voge and Lilly Mertens took advantage of the smooth, clear ice and had fun sliding across it.

A number of kids also turn turns lifting up the fish cooler lid to see the variety of fish caught and registered.

After the fish prizes were awarded, the kids’ raffle and general raffle started.

“There’s $6,000 worth of donated prizes,” Willert said. “They were donated from Marshall, Ivanhoe, Hendricks, Lake Benton, Brookings (South Dakota), Tyler, Pipestone, Clarkfield, Montevideo, Cottonwood and a number of other communities.”

Kypton Thooft won a bright green sled and it didn’t take long before he wanted to try it out. Other children, including Carson Lensing and Gavin Hook, took turns sliding across the ice as well.

Organizers thanked the contributors and everyone who participated. They’re also looking forward to next year.

“They came from all over,” Willert said. “We had almost 200 pre-register before Saturday. And we hope to do more next year. The tournament is always the last Saturday in January. It’s a lot of fun.”