Juan Arellano ventured onto the ice on the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir near Wausau, Wis., to ice fish with some friends in a friendly competition.
The Anoka native came off the ice as one of 10 members of a team that will represent the U.S. at the 2013 World Ice Fishing Championships next winter, which will likely be held near Wausau once again.
“I didn’t really expect to go out for the team, but I asked my mom for $300 for the entry fee and a few buddies and I ended up doing well and qualified,” he said. His friends finished among the bottom of the 45 that competed.
Arellano was named to the team after three heats over two days of competition on the body of water west of the town of Mosinee that shrunk the size of the field of 30 anglers from seven states to 20 for the semifinals.
The final 10 were determined by weight of pan fish (perch, crappies and sunfish) and rough fish (carp, bullhead, etc.) caught March 11.
Arellano, a self-described ice fishing freak, finished third overall in the heats after a slow start while temperatures soared to 60 degrees.
He reeled in a two-pound carp, 14-inch perch, 15-inch crappies and 10-inch blue gills.
“The ice fishing was unreal to me,” said Arellano, who averages 125 days on the ice and close to 100 days on the water fishing. “This is the best season I’ve had by far. We’ve gotten a lot of fish traveling around the country with Dave Genz.”
He’s entered other competitions, including the Ultimate Pan Fish League, based out of Blaine (Thorn Brothers) with teammate Chris Wallace and is a regular angler on the five-stop North American Ice Fishing Circuit (NAIFC).
Arellano describes Genz as his fishing mentor.
Fifteen inches of ice made for safe conditions, but the slippery surface was another story.
Arellano joins Michael Thompson of Minneapolis as the only Minnesotans on the squad.
“I grew up fishing in the boat with my dad and brother,” he said. “Then in high school I started ice fishing with buddies and it grew into a passion more than I expected it to.”
Nearly two dozen nations from the northern hemisphere compete in the three-day world championships, including many eastern and northern European nations along with the U.S. and Canada.
The 2012 championship was held in Finland.
The tournament, which restricts the use of power augers and electronics, was a grueling trial that included five heats to narrow entrants down to the final grouping.
Anglers also have to fish five meters apart.
Not being able to rely on power tools and electronics to reel in pan and rough fish made it all that more tough and contestants were allowed to practice on the ice three days before the event.
The USA Ice Team was created in 2008 to bring together the most accomplished ice anglers in the country in hopes of winning international titles.
Arellano will be part of the team that last won a world ice fishing championship in 2010.
Each team comprises five anglers with one alternate, a captain and coach.
The competition spans two days with the winning team determined by the total weight of the fish caught on each day.
One angler from each country fishes inside each competition zone with their own hand auger.
To get on the team, the USF3 program’s website describes the qualifications to be on team as pretty broad. Anyone with a valid fishing license and U.S. citizenship can participate in the trials.
Arellano said fishing without the helpful power tools and electronics took some adjustment. As he prepares for the world championship, Arellano said the goal is to hone his skills with the auger to get faster and learn how to fish better without electronics.
Being able to find the fish inside the tournament zone comes down to the angler’s speed in drilling holes and their knowledge of the body of water in addition to a little bit of luck.
“It really comes down to the luck of the draw and to drill a lot of holes,” Arellano said. “You have to be about two feet off the bottom and find that sweet spot of the fish column and they start to come. This type of fishing is a lot of hard work. If you can put the time in you can succeed.”
Arellano spent two weekends ago on the ice on Devil’s Lake in North Dakota on a late-season excursion. “It was very little and a little scary,” he said as the ice was quickly eroding. He’s gone through the ice before, luckily it was only five feet deep so he managed to get out quickly.