Waupaca ice fishing team prepares for first meet
By Greg Seubert
There’s a new team at Waupaca High School this winter and it has nothing to do with rebounds, forechecks and takedowns.
Carter Hoelzel, a junior at the school, helped get an ice fishing team off the ground and the team will compete in its first-ever meet Saturday, Jan. 8, on Partridge Lake in Fremont.
He isn’t the only Hoelzel on the team, as his father, Brian, is one of the team’s four coaches.
“We’re able to give them an understanding of what they can do for the rest of their life,” said Brian, who is also Waupaca’s police chief. “They can have experiences and build bonds with friends and family members. As a young child, that’s what I did with my family. We had a big family and we would all be out on the ice. There may be 30 tip-ups on the ice.”
The Waupaca team is affiliated with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Fishing Association, which oversees more than 120 teams from around the state. Its membership includes teams from Weyauwega-Fremont, Hortonville and Clintonville, as well as a new team of Iola-Scandinavia middle school and high school anglers.
The association holds ice fishing competitions around the state and kicked off its 2022 season Jan. 8 with state-qualifying meets on Partridge Lake, Kettle Moraine Lake in Fond du Lac County, the Chetek Chain of Lakes in Barron County and a statewide event hosted by Chequamegon High School in Park Falls.
State qualifying events will continue into February, with the state meet scheduled for Feb. 18-19 on Castle Rock and Petenwell lakes in central Wisconsin.
Starting a team
Carter Hoelzel came up with the idea of starting a team in Waupaca.
“I want to bring everyone together who loves the outdoors and be able to enjoy it as a group while at the same time competing against other schools,” he said. “I’m hoping for the kids that haven’t experienced it to know what it’s truly like to be out ice fishing and what it takes to compete against other schools. Another part is to show other schools that just because we’re the new team, that doesn’t mean we can’t compete.”
About half of the team’s 20 members showed up Jan. 31 on Waupaca’s Shadow Lake to learn what to expect at their first meet.
Brian coaches the team with Jordan Williams, a fourth-grade teacher at the Waupaca Learning Center; Ryan Makuski, an officer with the Waupaca Police Department; and Ryan Wilson, a Waupaca resident who competes on a national ice fishing tournament circuit and teamed up to win a national championship in December.
“The reason I was able to get on board so quick is because of Ryan (Wilson),” Brian said. “We’re neighbors and Ryan has young children that are going to get into this program. I know how much these guys ice fish. Just having that supporting group is really going to make it successful.
“We want to be here and help the kids,” he said. “Hopefully, they can learn some life lessons, too. We can actually work with them as a group and show them the little things. When it comes to fishing, if you don’t know the little secrets, it makes a difference catching fish.”
Fishing is nothing new for the Hoelzels, who compete together each summer on a professional walleye tournament circuit.
“My dad has been taking me ice fishing since I was 2 or 3 years old,” Carter said. “I remember being a little one on Lake Poygan running around with all my cousins. That was really how I got into it.”
“There are things we don’t tell people and those little things make a difference of whether you’re in the top 20,” Brian said. “He’s placed in every tournament that we’ve fished and the highest we did was second. I did that with my dad at 16 years old. I started competitively fishing with my dad up until two years ago. I was able to bond and spend time with my dad all those years. I actually took all my vacation fishing with my dad. I want to do the same thing with my kids and hopefully, some other kids in the program will get to do the same thing.”
Learning the basics
Carter said the team will learn more than the basics of ice fishing.
“There will be a lot to learn,” he said. “Even though a few of us are more experienced, there’s always room for improvement. They’ll learn the basic techniques that come along with ice fishing. It might not be all about how to catch the fish, it might be based on what the fish are doing this time of year or this time of day.”
A Waupaca-based organization, Walleyes for Kids, donated funds to the team for safety equipment.
“I contacted them regarding this team and said our main concern is ice safety equipment because we have to have that when we go out on the ice,” Brian said. “We were able to purchase ice creepers, throw ropes and some small fishing equipment. Some of the kids don’t have any equipment at all, so we’re able to provide that for them.”
Although much of Carter’s success has come in a boat, he also enjoys the opportunity to fish during the winter.
“When you’re out in a boat, you can only have three or four people at the most with you,” he said. “With ice fishing, we can be out in a big group – 20 of us – and enjoy ourselves. This is a time to go fishing with your buddies and have a good time.”