It’s official; the Wisconsin Carp Championships (WICC) is now 5 years old! In both tournament and dog years that means it’s come of age and has therefore become an institution in its own right. What started as a small friendly gathering of catch & release Carpers in a Menasha Park has now morphed into a tough and highly competitive tournament, surrounded by the spectacle of Carp Fest at Carp Town, with thousands of spectators and a fully-fledged media circus… not forgetting Carp Town T-shirts, beer glasses, and even license plates, for goodness sakes. What has the world come to when thousands of otherwise sane people will voluntarily gather on the banks of a small Lake Michigan shoreline town, to watch anglers grapple with big, hard-fighting fish?
To answer that question, let’s look back into the dim and distant past to where it all started…
There have been some great highlights to the WI Carp Championships over the years, and maybe that’s the secret to all that spectator interest. After all, in what other fishing tournament can you sit in a comfy chair, drinking beer under a sun-shade while chatting to the anglers, as they take a breather in between epic battles with a succession of 20 pounders? The 2-day, 10-hour “Carp Sprint” format certainly makes for a spectacle, as every angler is in with a chance, from minute to minute, and throughout Day 2 no matter what happened on Day 1.
I remember back to the very first Championship, which certainly set the competitive scene for the continuing years. Ernie Kolodziejczyk stamped his authority all over the first Tournament, with a stunning performance of long-range Carp-catching on Day 1. The surprise of Day 2 however, was Josef Settele, who went from dead last with a blank on Day 1, to fight his way right back up the leader board, gaining Third Place and the Big Fish trophy in the process.
The 2008 WI CC continued in this tough and proud tradition; 10 anglers started in firm control of their “A Game”, and were in with a realistic chance of winning at the end of Day 1. The morning of Day 2 saw a familiar pattern emerge however, as Josef put a stranglehold on all the other competitors… except for his buddy, Bobby Chokdee. In an absolutely thrilling afternoon of Carp fishing, Josef and Bobby slugged it out with twenties and high teens, oblivious to the hundreds of spectators behind them. The winner, by just one 13 lb fish in the last 5 minutes, was Josef. As in the 2007 WI CC, we all knew that here was an angler who had the skills and speed to “put more Carp on the mat” than most, when the fish moved in to feed. The big question was whether Josef would be able to repeat this performance in 2009, at a very different venue?
If there were any lingering doubts about Josef’s ability to catch Carp quickly, they were dispelled by the early afternoon of Day 1, at the 2009 WI CC in our new home, Two Rivers (a.k.a. Carp Town). By the end of Day 1, he had put enough Carp on the scales to have won both previous WI CC’s outright! Spectators, stewards and the anglers themselves were all waiting for what would happen on Day 2, and who might be able to catch Josef up!
Again, any one of 10 or more anglers had a chance, while several of the Carp Stars had slipped up on Day 1; would they be able to turn their game around on Day 2? Josef started underlining his win early on Day 2, but there were several other anglers fully prepared to chase him to the finish for 2nd, 3rd, and section wins. The race was tight, with Marcin Szydlowski pulling away from Bobby Chokdee (3rd), Frank Rink (4th), and Scott Osmond 5th). Josef ended up with a WI CC Record total weight of 889 lb; not bad for twenty hours fishing during daylight, with hundreds of spectators a few feet behind your peg! Paul Pezalla also broke the Big Carp record, with a fine 33 lb fish.
The big buzz at the 2010 WI CC revolved around Josef; could he do it again, and make it three in a row? With more anglers and 2 new sections in the mix, anything was possible. Day 1 dawned fine, but with forecasts of heavy rain later in the day; would the weather make a difference? At the end of Day 1 and a very wet afternoon, it was obvious that some had struggled with the weather, Josef included; the Carp had been finicky and unwilling to settle and feed in most pegs. However Ioan Iacob, fishing his second WI CC, pulled out a lead of nearly 478 lb, hotly chased by Marcin Szydlowski on 460 lb, and Bobby Chokdee on 308 lb; would Marcin or Bobby finally take the coveted title of Wisconsin Carp Champion?
Day 2 fortunately was a much better day for Carp, and the fish obliged accordingly. Some anglers faded, but Spectators were again spoilt for choice on who to watch for the win, with the added buzz of Ioan and Marcin again fishing different rivers (Ioan drew the East Twin on Day 1, while Marcin drew the West Twin); the “fish a different river each day” rule for the anglers certainly made for an exciting finale. Both anglers lost a few fish in front of their fans, and the final position was in doubt right into the final hour. Ioan became the 2010 WI Carp Champion by just 46 lb; 3 fish separated him from Marcin who claimed his second consecutive Runners-Up spot. As the anglers above him faded, Mirek Malej catapulted up the leaderboard at “Lee’s Peg on the West Twin on Day 2, to take a well-earned 3rd with 584 lb. Mirek was so beaten up by the fish that he was out for the count with a back-strain by the end and missed the Awards Ceremony; only finding out he was 3rd when I connected with him on his drive back to Chicago.
So, in recounting the history of the WI Carp Championships, I believe I’ve discovered what that secret formula is, that makes this such an exciting tournament for Spectators. The key ingredient is that physical closeness between Spectator, Angler, and Carp; everything happens within feet of the “Spectator Gallery”. When you couple this with how the Spectators can come and go, grab a snack, have a chat with the media teams, and not miss any of the action, then you have the ideal recipe for the “US Fishing Spectator Sport”. As one long-time WI CC Spectator has confided to me, “It’s like the NASCAR of Fishing! I’ve never seen any other fishing tournament come close to this format, it’s just pure excitement, up and down the shoreline, from dawn to dusk”.
The Future is Golden… just like the Trivers Golden Carp!
I don’t know what the future will bring, but one thing seems clear to me; Catch & Release Tournament Carp Fishing is here to stay in WI. Two Rivers, as Carp Town, is showing every other lakeshore or big river community how to make money and have fun with Carp as a sporting fish and wonderful, self-renewing natural resource; all the old talk about “trash fish” is definitely on the wane. I’ve transitioned the complete ownership and organization of the WI CC to the Two Rivers Business Association, and they are retaining me as their tournament advisor, pro bono, of course! It’s great to see a community take this type of event on, and I’m sure it will just continue to grow and improve into the future!
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