Cook County, IL, United States (4E Sports) – Thirty five students from different schools braved frigid temperatures as they joined the Thundering Eagle Ice Fishing Derby, believed to be the first high school ice fishing tournament for bass club members in Illinois.
The teens dangled lines in ice cold water on frozen Crystal Lake, some set up camp on the west bank and in a central area where the tops of underwater fir trees jutted just above the ice line to catch .
The students’ eyes sparkled as they try to snag some game fish or panfish that could be filleted and grilled for lunch.
“This is exciting,” said Meghan Kline, a senior at Andrew High School in Tinley Park who experienced her first fishing trip and walk across a frozen lake for the first time.
Instructors used augers to drill holes in the 18-inch thick ice so students could jig for pike, walleye and bass.
However, the students only caught panfish — crappie, bluegill and sunfish — and not enough to sustain a meal.
“It’s OK, we’ve got about a hundred chicken wings on the bus, just in case,” said Tara O’Connor, 17, from Tinley Park.
“Even though the kids caught few fish, they had a great time,” said John Bartgen, who organized the event with Jim Corcoran. Both are District 230 bass fishing club coaches.
One day while they were ice fishing, Bartgen and Corcoran hatched a plan to introduce ice fishing to their students. They enlisted the aid of other District 230 coaches, including Scott Plaisier and Bill Scott.
“For a lot of these kids, this is their first time ever on the ice,” said Bartgen, who teaches social studies and runs the club at Andrew. “We wanted to give them a cool experience.”
“We’re introducing the kids to something new and hoping to build a lifelong hobby,” said Corcoran, who teaches science and heads the Sandburg fishing club.
Wauconda High School won top honors with 1.77 pounds of panfish — an unusually light haul for the anglers, but enough to start a tradition, Bartgen said.