Wilson freezes the competition
Angler, partner win ice fishing tournament
By Greg Seubert
Ryan Wilson has taken his passion for ice fishing to another level.
Make that a third level.
The Waupaca resident recently returned from Naytahwaush, Minnesota, after he and his team partner, Brandon Newby of Wisconsin Rapids, won the North American Ice Fishing Circuit Tournament.
It’s the third time the pair have won the tournament, as they also placed first in 2012 and 2018.
The tournament, held Dec. 18-19 on South Twin and Island lakes, has moved around over the years and in the past has been held in the Rhinelander area and on Minnesota’s Mille Lacs Lake.
Anglers targeted bluegill and crappie.
“It’s a really nice area because they put us on different lakes each year,” Wilson said. “Sometimes, we’ll go to a lake where we’ve been to and then to a new one. Island Lake, where we went to for the first day, was a new lake that wasn’t even announced until the week prior, so no one had been on it and no one had seen it.
“That was a new challenge,” he added. “You have to see enough of the lake to be comfortable.”
Teams registered eight bluegill and eight crappie, which were weighed.
“You turn in 16 fish for a total weight,” Wilson said. “Everybody’s turning the same thing in. We’re all after eight crappies and eight bluegill. This year, the second lake played right into our wheelhouse. We were in fifth place, but we were only out by four or five ounces. We knew we had to make up a few ounces, but that was doable. We were able to stay moving with the schools and pick off enough of them to get a good average weight. We didn’t get anything huge, but we got some really nice average fish.”
Wilson didn’t start ice fishing until he attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where fishing for panfish could be found on the backwaters of the Wisconsin River, which flows through town.
“I really got into it,” he said. “There were a lot of places to check out. It was something to do in the winter after the hunting seasons wound down and it was easy. You could get a hand auger and walk out there. I started to find places to catch fish and really enjoyed it.”
Wilson eventually heard about Trap Attack, an ice fishing tournament series sponsored by Clam Outdoors.
“I ended up running into a Trap Attack event on Lake Redstone, by La Valle,” he said. “It was a big, national-level event sponsored by Clam. They brought Dave Genz along and it was kind of a big deal.
“I found a partner and got registered,” he said. “I went down there the weekend after the tournament for the first time and I said, ‘Well, I know there’s a tournament down here. Maybe if I can find a way to catch some fish, I’ll enter it next year.’ That’s exactly what I did. I went down and caught some fish. I convinced a buddy of mine to go down and we went down and took third. It was one of those moments where I went, ‘I might be able to do this, I wonder if there are any other events.’”
That was before Wilson teamed up with Newby.
“I think we have the same style as anglers,” he said. “We’re pretty aggressive with our fishing style. Neither one of us likes to sit there for too long.”
The pair will drill hundreds of holes in a tournament.
“During a tournament, we’ll put on miles and cover acres,” he said.
Ice fishing equipment, including rods, reels, tackle, clothing and shelters, have improved over the years, according to Wilson.
“We started with Carhartts and heavy stuff and the whole set of gear is going to weigh 40 pounds,” he said. “Now, we’re down to basically wearing a super-light rain jacket over the right layers to stay warm. You’re going to have to find a way to be comfortable and mobile.”
The biggest change, however, is the impact of electronics, Wilson said.
“It seemed like it would take a lot more work to cover water when all you have is a Vexilar that shows you what’s under that hole, but it doesn’t show you what’s 10 feet away,” he said. “We did a lot of camera work in the early days to try and see what’s around the hole. We started going to side-scanning sonar.
“It’s made it easier for the angler, but it’s made it tougher for the tournament competitor because everybody else out there has the same electronics now,” he said. “We used to be able to drill more holes and beat the next guy that way. Now, it almost becomes more strategic because the whole field will probably know what’s in the lake and where.”
Wilson and Newby have had team sponsors in the past. They don’t have much time to fish during the summer, as they work for Newby’s asphalt business.
“We used to do practically everything out there,” Wilson said. “Now, we’re picking some of the bigger ones or the ones that are on better water. Sometimes, we wait to pick the better weather. You can really beat yourself up out there if you get into the really nasty weather.”
Competing on a tournament circuit has allowed Wilson to fish water he otherwise wouldn’t see.
“I’ve enjoyed traveling, learning new waters, seeing new parts of the country,” he said. “There are places that have fantastic fishing.
“Don’t get me wrong, we have good fishing around here,” he said. “If you get to the Dakotas, you can more easily get on to some bigger perch. If you get into Minnesota where people don’t go a lot, there are lakes that are full of fish. That’s something you don’t see around here very often. That’s been part of the draw for me, getting into something different.”