NEGAUNEE - With windy but warm weather Saturday in Negaunee, more than 200 anglers headed to Teal Lake for this year's Heikki Lunta Winterfest Fishing Derby, with one fisherman dragging a northern pike nearly 40 inches long onto the ice.
"It's been a great day," said Eric Bartle of Negaunee, who landed not only the 38-inch pike weighing over 15 pounds, but a 7-pound, 27-inch walleye among his catch of nine fish.
Bartle appeared to be an old hand at catching fish on the lake. He declined to reveal exactly what bait he used on the monster northern pike. He said he's fished in the derby every year it's been held, except for two or three years when he ran it.
Fireworks flare over the frozen surface of Teal Lake in Negaunee Saturday night at the end of the first day of the Heikki Lunta Winterfest. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
At a pole where the day's biggest fish of the day were hanging, other fishermen marveled at the big pike, which made the other fish, including a yellow perch almost 14 inches, look small.
"I figured I could gut that pike and get a winning perch out of it," Bartle said laughing.
At a spot not too far from shore, 8-year-old Tyler Annala of Ely Township was fishing with his 5-year-old brother Tanner and other family members, including his grandma and grandpa, Judy and Doug Howe of Ishpeming.
Annala -who had recently recovered from a tough bout with the flu- sat on a padded upside down bucket, carefully dropping a minnow on a hook through a hole in the ice into the dark water below, which was said to be about 20 feet deep.
His grandpa fished unseen inside a tent-like ice shanty, with only his voice occasionally sounding through the thin fabric walls.
What was Annala hoping to catch?
"At least something," he said.
Annala said he likes fishing and caught a contest-winning rainbow trout last summer on a different lake. He and his grandma also mentioned a secret summer spot they fish where the walleye come in first, followed by the pike at 9 p.m.
"It's fun," he said. "It's fun to get out."
This was the first time Annala and his family members had participated in the derby.
"It's kind of fun to be out here for Heikki Lunta," said Mike Lempinen of Republic, another relative of Annala's. "I've only ice fished a couple times when I was younger, so this is really my first time. It's just fun to be out here with the family."
Erik Vanginkle from Negaunee was walking toward shore out on the ice. He hadn't fished yet, but was planning to later in the day.
"I fish here most of the winter," Vanginkle said. "Either here or on Schweitzer's (Basin)."
He said he catches walleye and perch on Teal Lake, pike sometimes.
"I'm just out to fish and have fun, see different people," Vanginkle said.
The ice on the lake was 8 to 10 inches thick. Offshore near U.S. 41, several vehicles had met at a spot on the ice. There, organizers were setting up the fireworks to be fired off Saturday night.
They test fired a couple of loud bangs over the ice, which might have scared the fish or woke them up.
Lee Johnson of Negaunee said he would be staying out on the ice where he was fishing to watch the fireworks.
"They're worth it," he said.
In a tent nearby, out of the buffeting winds, Stacy Goodreau of Negaunee, Kali Berry of Marquette and Kelly Pryal of Escanaba were tucked away over a hole cut in the ice, eating sandwiches, talking and having a good afternoon.
Outside the tent, Johnson and others in the fishing party had set with either jigging rods or watching tip-ups. One guy was shoveling several inches of soft snow into a pile.
Johnson said he doesn't normally fish Teal Lake a lot.
"Primarily, I'll go elsewhere, but since it's the tournament, you gotta come to it," he said. "It's been slow. But that's why they call it fishing and not catching."
Johnson said the group was looking for perch with the ice fishing poles and hoping for some pike on the tip-ups.
"You never know. Pike are new to this lake. They were unheard of five years ago," Johnson said. "They might have come in through the inlet, which is down that way, or somebody might have just put them in. Anyway, they're doing good."
About that time, Johnson's son Wayne arrived on a snowmobile and announced Bartle's walleye and monster pike catch, just as he was being asked if the pike in the lake reach legal size.
"Somebody just caught a 15-pounder so that's way legal," Johnson said.
He said there's plenty of food in the lake for pike to grow big.
"This lake is full of suckers," Johnson said. "It's the best sucker lake I've ever seen, and of course, nobody wants suckers, they're terrible. But the pike will feed on the suckers. So in time, there's going to be some big pike in here. Obviously, there is already if somebody caught a 15-pounder."
As the sun went down, the winds picked up out of the west and the temperature dropped. People lined the east side of Teal Lake -where a bonfire had been burning throughout the day- honking car horns as the skies brightened with the booming explosions of shimmering colors from the fireworks.
Out on the ice, anglers -many in their warm shanties- still jigged their minnows, hoping a leviathan pike would soon strike their bait below the ice.
Festival events continue today in Negaunee with a buffet breakfast will be served at the Negaunee Eagles club from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The cost is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $4 for ages 10 and younger. The Winterfest will then conclude with Heikki Lunta Blooper Ball, a winter baseball event with oversized bats and balls held at Old Towne Festival Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.