Anglers raise funds in Manawa
Ice fisheree still going strong
By Greg Seubert
An annual event to raise funds for the Manawa Area Veterans Freedom Park isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Hundreds of people headed to the Manawa Millpond Jan. 28 for the eighth Fishing For Freedom Ice Fisheree and tried their luck to catch some of the pond’s panfish, bass and northern pike.
They also warmed up in the park’s shelter house with bowls of soup and chili while supporting the park through various raffles.
“We’ve been fortunate over the years,” said John Smith, who helped get the park off of the ground. “One year, I think it was 30 below and it was one of our best years for earnings. The next year was almost 50 degrees warmer and that was a little slower.
“Our first year, we had a 40-by-40 tent,” he said. “The next year, we built this shelter house. We’ve seen it grow maybe 10 or 15% every year. A lot of times, you’ll see three or four generations of families out here fishing together. It’s a perfect day for fishing.”
The anglers included Alin Hix of Kaukauna, who headed to Manawa with friends and family from the Fox Valley.
Camaraderie of ice fishing
He said he prefers ice fishing to open-water fishing.
“I just think it’s a little more intimate, I guess,” he said. “You have your shacks and you’re a little closer to the people you’re out there fishing with.”
Some anglers fished from inside their shelter, but Hix and others sat or stood out in the open in temperatures that reached the low-20s.
“Catching fish, that’s probably the main thing,” he said when asked what he likes about ice fishing. “That’s not happening, but I’m still having a good time.”
Hix is looking forward to trout fishing for the first time this spring.
“I haven’t done that and my friend recently got into it,” he said. “We’re going to wait until the weather warms up and do creek walks and stuff like that. That’s going to be my next journey on my fishing quest, I guess. I don’t even know much about it yet. I know I need to get some waders.”
Smith said a Waupaca-based group provides several free prizes to kids at the fisheree each year.
“Walleyes for Kids is a big draw for us,” he said. “They donate many fishing poles or tip-ups. All the kids get something. The parents are super-happy that their kids are excited.”
Besides the memorial and shelter house, the park also includes a splash pad, playground equipment and handicapped-accessible fishing pier.
“This is one of our two biggest fundraisers of the year,” Smith said. “It’s important that we do well every year at this fisheree and the community and surrounding communities have been really good to us over the years. This is a huge part of what we’ve been able to do. The other big one is one the fourth Saturday in April, we have a trap shoot at the Manawa Fish & Game Club and banquet. We do a car show in September and we’ve done golf outings in August.”
Future plans for park
Future plans for the park include paving the parking lot by the shelter house; building a bridge and sidewalk linking the park’s memorial and family sides; and installing major donor walls.
“It’s a work in progress,” Smith said. “The first couple of years, we worked on the memorial. Then, we worked on the shelter house.”
The park has been developed with donated funds and labor, according to Smith.
“We have zero grant money, so there is no government money whatsoever for our park,” he said. “The city has not given any money to build the park, so everything that we’ve done here has been raised through our fundraising efforts or private donations. We’ve had some generous family foundations that have helped us.
“We were looking at $1 million to build this park and that was if we had somebody do it,” he added. “We’ve done it on our own. We had some great community builders that put this shelter house up. They basically did it for lunches. We’re probably going to be close to that million-dollar mark by the time we’re done.”
Smith is one Manawa resident with family members that serve or have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
“I was young when my dad went to Vietnam and my cousins went off to serve, so that didn’t really affect me a whole lot,” he said. “When my daughter went off to serve, I realized that she’s not here. They’re not home for birthdays and holidays. You can’t just call them up and say, ‘Hey, I’m coming over for coffee today.’
“We have people on our committee whose husbands or children served in the Middle East during (Operation) Desert Storm,” he said. “We thought it was important not to just build something for our veterans, but for our families. We wanted a place for families to come and bond.”
Smith expects the fisheree to continue once park projects are completed.
“This event is one that we’d for sure like to see continue,” he said. “We’ve talked to a couple of different organizations about taking it over when we’re done with it. I think it’ll continue. It’s a great community event and there are a lot of organizations that could use a really good fundraiser.”