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World Ice Fishing Championship recorded by local

by David Fleet

February 12, 2014

When the bait hits the water in the eleventh annual World Ice Fishing Championship on Feb. 18-24 in the Minsk region in the country of Belarus— a local will be recording and producing the action.

Kelly Gotch, a 1998 Brandon High School graduate and Ortonville native, will travel with the USA Ice Fishing Team as a media producer. Gotch is also a Central Michigan University graduate and former co-host and associate producer of Michigan Out-of-Doors. The team includes anglers from Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota. Past participants include Sweden, Russia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Finland, Canada, Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Slovakia, Norway, Iceland, Czech Republic, Moldavia, and Romania. Each team consists of five fishers with one alternate, a captain and a coach.

"Ice fishing is more popular in parts of Europe than here in the United States," said Gotch. "We are way behind in ice fishing techniques here in the U.S. They fish tiny—with hand lines and palm rods. The fish they catch is not even a foot long."

The team will catch perch and European roach, a silver fish in the carp family ranging in length from 6-16 inches and weighing up to 4 pounds.

"It's not about catching a trophy fish—it's about catching as many fish as you can. They keep all the fish they catch—it's a big part of their diet in the Urkraine. Many of the fish are smoked—they are very tasty. The first time we ice fished in Europe our American team kept throwing the small fish back. The Ukrainians were getting mad at us because we did not keep the roach fish due to the size—they called us wasteful Americans. We learned a little more about their ways as time went on."

This year's venue of the ice championship is the area of the summer Olympic training grounds for Belarussian rowers. Team USA has traveled to Europe four times for the competition, including finishing ninth in Poland, eighth in the Ukraine, and 11th in Kazakhstan. In the United States the team finished fourth in Wausau, Wis., in 2013 and first place in Rhinelander, Wis., where the Team USA members qualified for the World Ice Fishing Championship.

"They don't sit on buckets to fish, don't use shanties and sometimes catch a fish every three seconds," she said. "It's very competitive and often some very strange techniques are used—including stealing holes. They also don't use the short ice fishing poles we use here. Rather, they all have palm rods with very thin delicate line. It's also sensitive to small fish."

Gotch said the competitors hand drill through 30 inches of ice, run across the ice to hot fishing zones, and catch 50-60 fish per hour.

"You can line up next to our oldest team member and they will burn a hole in the ice before you can start your power auger," she said. "The two competition days will include three hour heats each day. Anglers from around the world will fish head to head trying to catch the most weight."