It will never receive the hype of an athletic contest between the Michigan State Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes. The rivalry will never be as intense as the Boson Red Sox and the New York Yankees or the Dodgers and the Giants. The ice fishing rivalry between three-time Wisconsin State Ice Fishing champions Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln and two time champions Osceola will never reach National news but it sure is competitive, yet so much fun.
Wisconsin Rapids claimed the ice fishing State Championships in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Neenah was the top team in 2018 followed by Pulaski in 2019. Osceola was the top team in the state in 2020 and just came back with another State title for 2021. Don’t jump to the conclusion that Osceola and Wisconsin Rapids are two of only a few teams in the statewide competition. This year there was close to 100 schools competing for annual bragging rights.
In 2020 Osceola was one of two teams to finish the tournament with over 500 inches of fish (the official way of judging the competition) with Schofield DC Everest the other. This year the Chieftains broke the 600 inch barrier with a total of 612.5. Rival Wisconsin Rapids was second with 597.
“The State championship was an absolutely amazing tournament,” Osceola Head Coach Rick Stewart began. “We had a lot of fun and the kids fished hard, worked together, and executed. We were incredibly blessed to have the group of kids on the ice fishing team that we do. They have the willingness to fish hard for long periods of time and the ability to change their presentation, location, and technique when appropriate. They have a great knowledge base and work together well as a team.” Of the 12 anglers who fished at State this year, eight of them, Kaden Pingel, Drew Pingel, Brock Studer, Nick Nissen, Lance Wallis, Kolten Heimbach, Colton Wilmot, and Dawson Rosenow were a part of the 2020 State Championship. Newcomers to the 2021 championship squad include Max Michel, Mason Wood, Sam Schiebel and Josh Demulling.
“After an unbelievable win last year I knew it was going to be tough this year,” Kaden Pingel said. “Being able to put time in scouting new spots was something I knew we had to do. So being able to put a game plan together as it got close to the tournament was a relief since we had found some nice fish. After knowing one of our teams had caught some really nice pike it had definitely relaxed some people to where we were able to focus on some other fish and ultimately win the tournament. These two years were so much fun and I feel like we had learned a lot when it comes to putting together a winning strategy.”
Osceola put together their plan to start the tournament. As in any sport, adjustments had to be made during the competition to give the team the best chance to succeed.
“Our perch were not what we wanted with a couple of hours to go in the tournament, so one group moved and we ended up putting up the top stringer of perch in the tournament, all in the last 90 minutes,” Stewart explained.
The Osceola team was led by a solid core of seniors. This group placed 18th at State as freshmen and was determined to improve with their eyes on the top spot before they graduated.
“We talked and let them know that if they wanted to pursue a State championship, they had a realistic chance of earning one,” Stewart said. “Little did we know at the time that they would be back-to-back State Champions. We will be losing eight seniors from this team who will leave a lasting impact on the program and a lot of empty spots on the roster. A big thank you to those seniors; Kaden Pingel, Kolten Heimbach, Colton Wilmot, Lance Wallis, Sam Schiebel, Mason Wood, Dawson Rosenow and Josh Demulling. We hope that they have learned a lot about fishing, conservation, and will be great advocates for our resources as they continue to pursue a great lifetime sport.”
Osceola had a total roster of 50 this season. Some of the events had to be cancelled during the season due to extreme weather but the Chieftains were able to get 31 members of the team in at least one event.
As in any sport it isn’t just about winning, but also lessons that can be taken from the sport.
“The Wisconsin Interscholastic Fishing Association does a great job of hosting catch and release tournaments in partnership with Fish Donkey, which provides a platform for a fair, healthy way to host competitive fishing tournaments,” Stewart summarized. “All fish caught were photographed, documented and released.”
Stewart also acknowledged the help he received to make the championship team possible. “A big thank you to Josh Pingel, Dean Nissen, Tim Michel, and Mike Wallis for their help with the State Championship team,” he said.