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Ultimate Panfish League

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I was returning home today from from Tower, we stopped to eat in Virginia and I picked up a copy of the Mesabi Daily News.

To my surprise this story appeared in the sports section

Way to go guys!

As the wild-flamed sunset tamed to tepid orange and Orion was rising Monday, Tyler Holm yelled "All right, let's fish!"

With that, 19 people began their quest to win the second Ultimate Panfish League-Rochester tournament.

Top prize: $114.

OK, so it wasn't a megabucks payout, but it was close to home, and many of the anglers said they were planning on ice fishing anyway. So they went to the Kalmar Township reservoir west of Rochester, dragged flip-up shacks, tackle, heaters and fishfinders over the dam and signed up for the competition.

The 19 anglers had a lot in common: they were all young men (the oldest probably 35) they love to fish and enjoy a little competition. To enter, they only needed to chip in $10 and could add $1 for biggest fish and enter the top four sunnies and crappies. Catch-and-release was encouraged.

Nothing complicated. No week-to-week standings. Just come out, pay your money and have some fun.

Billy Denny of Rochester and Spencer Hagen of Byron sat in one warm shelter. "We were just coming out fishing, and we heard about it from everybody else," Denny said.

Ten bucks wasn't too much to ask. "Just adds a little excitement," Hagen said.

They brought out waxworms, minnows and PowerBait. "You have to have every trick," Hagen said.

Both loved the idea of the simple tournament. "It gets everyone together, that's what's good about it," Denny said. "Everybody talks about what they caught, and sees what everybody caught."

Jason Outcalt of Zumbrota fished with Brad Ackman of Rochester for the same reason -- to have fun. Yes, the wind was cold, but they had the shelter and a good heater. Life was good.

"We can meet other people, share secrets," Ackman said. "If we don't win, it's fun, just the fishing part."

But still, Outcalt and Ackman were serious enough about the competition to have at least one trick up their sleeves. Suspended from a Styrofoam ball was an old Christmas garland that provided structure, something the reservoir lacks.

At 9 p.m., those still on the ice gathered near Holm, the league's organizer, who had to thaw out his scale before the weigh-in could begin. One by one, anglers brought in their fish. As fish were weighed, anglers talked about who did what, what worked, how the ice was.

"Tons and tons of little crappies," Hagen said. "Probably not a ton, though. I wish it was a ton."

"Definitely a good time," Denny said. "Most of the fish we caught were suspended."

When the numbers were crunched, Outcalt came out on top. Maybe it was the fake structure, he said. They caught their fish early with jig and waxies -- minnows didn't do much.

And he knew exactly what he was going to do with his winnings: "Buy some more fishing equipment." And maybe some gas to get to the next Ultimate Panfish League tournaments.

Holm said there are a couple more tournaments scheduled to take place on the ice, and he'd like to expand them to open water.

When it was all over, the anglers dragged their heavy gear up and over the dam. The west was black, Orion was high in the sky and the reservoir was quiet and dark.

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