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January 28, 2013

Ice fishing tourney hopes weather cooperates

MEADVILLE — When it comes to ice fishing, last winter presented a worst-case scenario for Jerry Van Tassel, who has hosted the Canadohta Lake Ice Fishing Tournament for a number of years now.

After about 300 fishermen attended the highly successful 2011 tournament, numbers slumped to 115 last year following unusually warm weather in February. Fishermen feared the ice wasn’t solid enough.

“A lot of them called and said, ‘Hey, do you want me to bring my boat?’ ” Van Tassel said.

But, as it turned out, “it was the best ice all winter” during last year’s one-day Canadohta Lake tournament, Van Tassel said.

This winter has been a bit more typical — and if the weather cooperates, Van Tassel is hopeful this year’s Canadohta Lake tournament, which is scheduled for Feb. 9, is one of the best yet.

“If we can get some good ice and good weather, we can get over 300,” Van Tassel said. “We’ve had a ton of people calling. A lot of guys are waiting for the tournament.”

Temperatures may climb into the 50s on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Van Tassel said that could be a good thing. As long as temperatures drop below freezing at night, the ice will have a chance to solidify even more.

“I’m hoping for a little bit of a warmup and then get some real frigid temperatures,” Van Tassel said.

One fisherman expected to attend the Canadohta Lake tournament is Conneaut Lake’s Bob Felitsky, who is also known around fishing circles as “Musky Bob.”

Felitsky, 58, has been fishing as long as he can remember. He started hitting the water and ice with his father at age 2 or 3. Nowadays, he fishes year-round and especially looks forward to the ice fishing season.

“It’s just the camaraderie of being with all the ice fishermen,” Felitsky said. “The fish always seem to taste better when they’re caught out of the cold water.”

Just this past weekend, Felitsky took a trip down to Butler’s Moraine State Park, where he said there’s about seven inches of ice. He had a successful day, catching some crappie, bass and northern pike.

If the Canadohta Lake tournament runs as planned on Feb. 9, the Conneaut Lake tournament will follow on Feb. 23, weather permitting. Conneaut Lake didn’t freeze in time for last year’s tournament, but Felitsky has experienced a great atmosphere for ice fishing when the conditions at Conneaut Lake are at their best.

“Conneaut looked like a city out there on the lake once,” Felitsky said. “There was so many hundreds of people out on the lake. There were people walking out on the ice just to see what was going on.”

Felitsky, who received the name “Musky Bob” after all the muskies he’s fished out of Conneaut Lake over the years, was surprised to see some people ice fishing at Conneaut Lake over the weekend.

“I actually didn’t even know Conneaut Lake was safe until I came back up here and noticed some shanties on the ice,” he said, adding that he usually doesn’t ice fish until the body of water has built up five-plus inches of ice. “I usually wait until I see people out there and it’s safe.”

Even though the longest fish in each category — musky, northern pike, walleye, crappie and perch — yields prize money at the Canadohta Lake and Conneaut Lake tournaments, Felitsky will be fishing for the fun of it.

“Everybody just goes out there and just fishes,” he said. “If you get one, you enter it in. But it’s more about being out there and enjoying yourself.

“If I don’t get the big one, I don’t care. Especially kids — I like to see them catch something big.”

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