The 2017 Rock Island Conservation Club Winter Fishing Tournament was canceled this year due to unsafe ice conditions. In fact, the reason the event had “Winter” in the title is because in 2006 it was held in open water when the ice was completely out. Because this popular event to both sides of the Mississippi River has been going for so many years, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the history and show some photos after the time I started helping in 2000.
At the beginning, the late Joe DeCook was running the event, and quite successfully. In Joe’s time there were a couple of accidents with anglers falling through the ice, but fortunately nothing was fatal. After a second accident it seemed like things started falling off, and the tournament was set aside.
Then along came Kye Carver and Dave Shrader who put things together again. In 2000, Kye asked if I could help out in finding some sponsors. About the only sponsor they had was EZ Livin’ Sports Center in Milan, Ill. I thought it was going to be a tough job since the number of contestants was going to be low, but I was able to pull in a few of the companies I had worked with through pro staffs. In fact, four of the oldest sponsors we have were with us at that time: TTI-Blakemore, Frabill, Berkley and Jiffy Ice Drills.
Later, after Kye gave up the event, I started working with the former president of the club, Al Classen. Al and I are still working on the event and have now pulled in help from John Hurt of Croegaert’s Great Outdoors.
Sponsors have also increased. First was Midwest Outdoors, which was followed by Vexilar, Work Sharp, Plano, Mercury Marine, Rat-L-Trap, Blitz Lures, and the newcomer, Henry Repeating Arms. Other sponsors have been Custom Jigs & Spins, King Fisher Designs and South Bend.
As the field of contestants grew larger—up to 180 in one event—rules had to be changed. There was more possibility of cheating, and since this was a fun event to grow interest in the RICC and the sport of ice fishing plus get women and kids more involved, it was brought down to a level of smaller amounts of cash and more of a way to have more winners. The rules went to the return of the entry fee plus a merchandise prize, and a person could only place in one category, which made it possible to have nine individuals win. There are three categories: largest sunfish species, largest crappie and most weight for 10 sunfish. All have three place fishies.
All other prizes were given away in drawings, which usually meant that there were enough sponsors to have something for everyone. This is why the event has been so popular to date. To top it off, there is a lunch prepared that’s covered as part of the $10 entry feel.
Adding all of this together is why it’s become a family event and has become more popular with women and kids.
There are accompanying photos that are from throughout the years that show how the event has grown from 12 competitors—that had the freedom to move anywhere on the three area lakes—to having “ice shelter city” in several locations throughout the 110-acre area.
If you’re interested in being involved with next year’s event, again, weather permitting, contact the Rock Island Conservation Club through their website at riccnews.com or visit their Facebook page.