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KATIE ZERR: With this tourney, it takes a village

One wonders how a 50-person ice fishing tourney, held in the dead of winter, grew into the wildly successful Tourism Committee Ice Fishing Tournament that is set to take place here this weekend.
There is just something special about a small idea that has grown through the years into something that is known as a well-run, fun tournament that anglers look forward to and return to each year.
This is the 18th annual tournament and there are 1,052 anglers registered to fish on Saturday. It is now a three-day affair that has a huge economic impact on the city and county during a down time part of the year.
Anglers from across the state and nation come to Mobridge to fish this tourney. There have been some lean years with few fish weighed in and some years when it was so cold that the participants looked more like Antarctic trekkers than people wetting a line. But then there are those years when that whopper is brought into Beadle’s Chevrolet garage and there is a wave of excitement.
Most of the time, someone hears about the big catch before the fish and the anglers arrive. When that team enters the building the other anglers gather around and the fish is proudly presented for all to see. The comments fly, some can’t be repeated in polite company, but mostly it’s congratulatory banter that disguises a bit of envy.
Last year’s 10.5 pound walleye that propelled the winning team to glory was fat and healthy. The anglers were excited to see the “beauty” that was the second big fish of the day.
There were quite a few nice baskets of fish last year. Let’s hope this year is the same.
The tournament committee works all year long to ensure the event runs smoothly and that it remains a fun-filled experience for anglers. The top prizes are huge, but to be honest, having witnessed this event for many years, the fun and camaraderie are what is front and center.
Of course there are some serious anglers who want to finish in the top of the list as this tournament is part of the Northern Oahe Walleye Championship Series, but for the most part it is about the day of fishing with buddies and the chances at winning prizes.
For those who work on the event, hundreds of volunteer hours are spent planning and pulling off the tournament. The planning is the responsibility of the committee, but during the three-day event volunteers sell tickets, man the beer bars, hand out prizes, feed the masses and help with the set up, clean up and tear down of the three venues that play a role in this event.
Those venues, the Coke warehouse, Beadle’s Chevrolet and Scherr-Howe Event Center are readied to handle the influx of more than 1,000 anglers. Each is set up to handle the specific needs of the function that venue holds. From the Expo to the finale, Scherr-Howe must be set up or the Expo, torn down and re-set on Friday in a manner of a couple of hours for the rules meeting; cleaned-up and readied for the finale on Saturday.
Volunteers set up the Coke Warehouse for Saturday mornings launch and they are back at the warehouse on Saturday afternoon and evening aiding in angler check-ins.
Volunteers also man the weigh-in site at Beadle Chevrolet from early Saturday afternoon until early Saturday evening, making sure the check in lines move swiftly, weighing of the fish is done professionally, the tracking of the team weights and recording all of it for tournament officials goes smoothly.
The volunteers work to keep the area dry and safe for the anglers check-in, which is no small feat as there is water and fish involved.
The finale is where the winners are celebrated, the four-wheelers are given away and the winners of the two large prize packages are announced.
It all ends around 10 p.m. with anglers heading home or to the area hotels. Some look for something to eat at local restaurants while others continue the fun at the bars in town.
All of these preparations are made with the safety of the anglers as the number one priority.
There have been glitches over the years, but for the most part, the tournament has been a rousing success and continues to grow every year with increasing prize money and more nationally known sponsors.
The tournament not only has an economic impact on the town, but enhances the reputation of our community as being friendly and welcoming to its visitors.
It also cements Oahe’s reputation of being a premier walleye fishery, especially with catches like last year’s.
This little event has exploded through the years and the success can be traced through promotion of our community on a state and national level, to the grassroots volunteers of the community.
It is a testament to the determination of members of our community and to hours upon hours of volunteering that makes this and many other events in our community happen.
Thank you to those volunteers and the committee members that make this happen.
Have fun and stay safe, anglers. Here’s hoping there is a whopper at the end of your lines.
– Katie Zerr –