Manistee, Benzie County ice fishing contest draws hundreds to local lakes

MANISTEE COUNTY — Maisley Tlachac started the weekend looking to clinch first place in Osborn’s ice fishing contest. Last year, the 9-year-old won third place.

“I wanted to see if I could get first place this time around,” she said, adding that last time she won an ice auger with her third-place pike.

There were about 66 other kids like Tlachac who entered the contest this year and about 383 adults who joined in fishing on various lakes around Manistee and Benzie counties on Saturday and Sunday in hopes of catching fish and to win prizes like augers, ice shelters, fishing rods and net knives.

Maisley Tlachac holds her pike that she caught on Saturday morning.

Arielle Breen / News Advocate

According to ranking published on Osborn’s Facebook pageMaisley was in first place in the children’s class with his 10.51-inch pike on Saturday afternoon.

Even if Maisley doesn’t win the junior category award, she can still say she helped her dad shoot a monster pike.

Joel Tlachac was on course to take first place in the adult category with his 42.5-inch pike weighing 18.41 pounds that he caught Saturday morning at Portage Lake.

“It’s going to be tough to beat. I’ve seen 40 (inch) pike before and the year we saw two 40 (inch) pike – I’ve never seen a 42 (inch) pike,” Twyla said Saturday afternoon. Osborn, owner of Osborn’s Sports Shop.

Joel Tlachac was on course to take first place in the adult category with his 42.5-inch pike weighing 18.41 pounds that he caught Saturday morning at Portage Lake.

Joel Tlachac was on course to take first place in the adult category with his 42.5-inch pike weighing 18.41 pounds that he caught Saturday morning at Portage Lake.

Arielle Breen

Osborn’s has held the Ice Fishing Contest every year since 2010.

Osborn said one of the main reasons they still want to enter the pageant is that there are a lot of kids like Maisley who enjoy the event.

“It really is a fun family activity to do in the middle of winter,” she said.


She said that over the years the contest rules had changed to try to make sure people weren’t cheating. They’ve done this by doing things like requiring fish to be alive for weighing as opposed to frozen fish and the contest is also open to any lakes in Manistee or Benzie county.

“It really reduced a lot of (situations where) they grabbed it last weekend and threw it in the freezer,” she said.

The contest began Saturday morning with the final weigh-in Sunday afternoon.

Osborn said ice conditions were excellent on Bear and Portage lakes where there was at least 10 to 12 inches of ice cover. But she also pointed out that the weather plays a role in how many people attend.

This year, about 450 people signed up.

COMPANIONSHIP ON ICE

On Bear Lake, Eric Morehouse and Randy White were on vacation. For them, the fishing trip was more about camaraderie and the outdoors than competition.

“We really fish for walleye. Everything else is bonus. We don’t care about winning anything. It’s just (good) if you happen to catch that big fish,” White said.

White is a Charlotte resident of Eaton County who has family in Bear Lake. White hadn’t really ice-fished until he met Morehouse who took him fishing, and the two have been friends for years fishing together.

Morehouse is a Cass County resident who grew up in the Upper Peninsula.

“We had a TV, (but) you didn’t dare turn it on unless it was nighttime and it was family time. But you found something to do which was to fish or hunt or do something (outside),” he said.

Eric Morehouse checks his tip to see if there's a fish on the line on Bear Lake Saturday morning.

Eric Morehouse checks his tip to see if there’s a fish on the line on Bear Lake Saturday morning.

Arielle Breen / News Advocate

He also passed on this love of the outdoors to his children.

Morehouse said they used to go from outdoor season to outdoor season in his family, going from sports like white-tailed deer archery season to deer season to fire trapping, then spring turkey season and morel hunting.

“It was just nonstop back home with our kids,” he said. “My three children fish, all three hunt. Two of them are great duck hunters. … They all love the outdoors.

Morehouse and White take other trips to places like Lake of the Woods in Canada, they enjoy fishing the Detroit River in the spring and summer, and they always try to improve their setup and fishing methods along the way. .

The pair worked in sync on Saturday to navigate to a favorite fishing spot on Bear Lake, then drill holes with their augers, check the water depth and install the tilts, ice shelter and heater in the ‘shelter.

The two observed safety and preparedness measures on the ice. They dressed in ice suits that protect them from both low temperatures and blowing snow that limited visibility on Saturday – and the suits also have buoyancy capabilities should they fall through the ice.

“We have our system down,” they both said.

They were also sure to check with Bear Lake family members for status updates before arriving Friday night.

White said the two will often take the walleye they catch on their trips home to the freezer and then have some at a July 4th party at Morehouse’s home.

“It’s our vacation,” Morehouse said, adding that the couple usually take three vacation fishing trips together. “We just like to come and go and we can’t wait to be there.”

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