Jacob friede/lakeland times

Tom Crowley shows off the whopper of a walleye he caught during the Rainbow Flowage Ice Fishing Jamboree.
Jacob friede/lakeland times

Tom Crowley shows off the whopper of a walleye he caught during the Rainbow Flowage Ice Fishing Jamboree.
A red sun rose over the Rainbow Flowage last Saturday like a tip-up flag on the horizon, and that’s just the sight an army of anglers was hoping to see on the ice, as hundreds of fishermen turned out for the annual Rainbow Ice Fishing Jamboree.  

The great mob on the flowage resembled an arctic carnival midway as multitudes of fishermen collected in a maze of camps full of scattered sleds and augers and poles and buckets and electronics. 

But the main attraction was underneath the ice.

Each agler was allowed a maximum of two holes in the 100-yard tournament circle, and there were over 380 drilled. 

As for me, I chose my spot with a very specific strategy in mind: Wherever I could find room.

I ended up over a very fortunate section of the flowage, for everyone around me that is.

A single firework exploded to signal the start of the tournament, and not long after someone close by yelled out “Flag!” 

It got the reaction as if they yelled “Fire.”

Everyone stopped and turned to see who was tending the lucky tip-up.

It was Larry Woller. He carefully worked the line until the right moment to set the hook. The eyes, it seemed, of the entire fisheree, were focused upon him.

He didn’t disappoint, and Woller pulled a 19-inch northern onto the ice.  

Little did everyone know at that time that pike would take “longest fish” prize.

But for three hours everyone tried to top it, and each potential threat to the lead that landed upon the ice was met with raucous applause that rang out across the tournament ring.

I heard plenty of that directed my way, just not at me.  

To my immediate left, Ray Wendler landed a 8 3/8-inch perch which would take second place in the panfish division. It was well deserved, as he has put in his time already this year.

“I love the ice,” Wendler said. “I’m usually out first ice when you get two to three inches. That’s the best.” 

Tom Crowley, on the other hand, fishing right in front of me, said he preferred the open water of the warmer months.

“I’m out here all the time in summer. I’m not really an ice fisherman,” he said.

But he was that day as all sudden I heard his crew get boisterous and I looked up to see Crowley’s jig pole bent in half as he pulled a little walleye onto the ice.

Not 15 minutes later I looked to my right and saw the same scene, though this time it was Scott Weiman with a 10 1/8-inch perch that would win the panfish division.  

Though an avid angler, Weiman said his catch came down to luck with everyone fishing basically the same way over a structureless flat.

“It was a tough spot to fish,” Weiman said. “There was no secret. Everyone was doing the same thing.”

The results were as close as the distance people fished from each other.

In the game fish division, first, second, and third place were all ties. 

Woller’s 19-inch northern was matched by Charlie Hess.

Following those fish, there were two 18 7/8-inch northerns taking second, and two at 18 3/4 inches taking third.   

With such close measurements, the weigh-in at the Sloan Community Center in Lake Tomahawk, was just as rocking as the tournament, with loud cheers sent up for each division’s champions.

The man at the center of it all was the jamboree’s founder, organizer, and master of ceremonies, Ed Choinski.

Choinski has been running the fisheree, which pays out hefty prize money, for almost 30 years, inspired by a tournament in Minnesota he and his brother Joe used to attend as boys. 

They talked their parents, Frank and Patricia Peters, who formerly owned the Lone Pine Landing on the Rainbow Flowage, into first hosting the event.

“I think that first year we sold 60 holes, maybe,” Choinski said. “Then it was 120. Then it was 200, and before they closed the bar it was pushing probably 400 holes.”

When the Lone Pine Landing closed, Choinski took the tournament to other establishments on the flowage and let them run it, but he eventually took back ownership of it, and as he looked from the stage at the good time everyone was having, he said, “I’ve had people ask me to give it to them. I won’t. I just won’t do it.”

He said the reason why everyone can get together for a party after competing against one another is everyone knows it was a fair fight on the ice..  

Not only the choice of a structureless location, but an intensive gear search prior to competition is conducted to ensure that.

“If we lose the integrity of the tournament no one will come to it,” Choinski said.

But by the smiles on all the fishermens’ faces and community in general, Choinski will not have to worry about the Jamboree’s future for a very long time.

Jacob Friede may be reached at jacob@lakelandtimes.com or sports@