Some people might think that winter and its icy expanses deter anglers from indulging in their beloved pastime. Those people would be wrong.
The arctic art of ice fishing is alive and well in the Flathead Valley, buoyed by prime fisheries and sturdy frozen sheets atop the many lakes that dot the landscape.
But likely nothing satiates local sportsmen who enjoy the frozen pursuit more than the “hottest tournament on ice.”
The 12th annual Perch Assault is here. The three-part series is one of the most popular wintertime fishing competitions in the region and has been featured on national television programs as a premier event. An average of 60 two-person teams register annually.
This year’s series begins Jan. 7 at Lower Stillwater Lake. Registration is due Jan. 5, and teams can sign up at Snappy Sport Senter or online at perchassault.com.
The second tournament is Feb. 4 at Lake Mary Ronan. The third is scheduled for March 4 at Smith Lake, which includes a post-event awards ceremony at the Kila Pub.
New this year, the organizers are taking the popular event out of state for the first time and hosting a contest on Lake Cascade in Idaho from Feb. 11-12.
Here’s how the Perch Assault works: teams of two pick their lucky spot on the ice, set up shop and drill their hole. It’s a competitive ice fishing event, and the goal is to land the 10 best perch possible in terms of weight. A good bag will weigh around 10 pounds.
Sites are inspected at 7 a.m., followed by a shotgun start at 8 a.m. The weigh-ins occur at 2 p.m. The total weight of the team’s 10 perch will be team’s official score. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top 10 teams with purses often surpassing $5,000. Also, prizes such as largest fish are awarded.
If a team competes in the entire three-part series, its score from each of the events will be added up for the final score and ranking.
There are strict rules that keep teams from getting too close to one another, and everyone follows an honor system to prevent cheating.
“The people who do the tournament really take ownership of the tournament,” Mike Howe, one of the event founders and organizers, said. “They understand it’s their tournament.”
Howe established the event in 2005 with Chancy Jeschke and the support of other avid anglers. At the time, ice fishing was gaining popularity around the U.S. thanks to advanced technology and gear that made it easier to enjoy a day outside on the ice. But nothing locally reached the level of competition seen in tournaments in other state contests. The first year’s event was a single-day competition, and in 2007, it expanded to a three-part series. That year, more than $12,500 was awarded.
“With this tournament, we’ve taken ice fishing in the Flathead Valley to another level,” Jeschke said. “We’re putting the Flathead on the map for ice fishing competitions.”
Each year, the organizers pick different locations to ensure the fishery isn’t being overfished and to keep it challenging for anglers who might have mastered a certain spot.
The tournament features a mix of friends and family, with several teams encompassing fathers and sons and husbands and wives. This makeup creates an atmosphere that stands out, Howe and Jeschke said.
“For me, it’s that atmosphere and being outside in winter, like skiing up at Big Mountain,” Jeschke said. “Those really cold, crisp mornings on the ice. It’s just a really good winter hobby.”
For more information about the Perch Assault, visit http://perchassault.com.