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Many anglers, many angles at Hardwater Classic

Kaydence Molde, 8, watches as Dustin Kroeplin catches his fourth fish on Saturday during the sixth annual Knife River Materials Hardwater Classic Ice Fishing Tournament hosted by BSU Beaver Pride on Saturday afternoon on Lake Bemidji. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 3
Misti Chandler coachers her daughter, Isabel, 7, what to do when a fish nibbles on her fishing line at the sixth annual Knife River Materials Hardwater Classic Ice Fishing Tournament hosted by BSU Beaver Pride on Saturday on Lake Bemidji. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 3
Madison Lindseth, 5, caught her first fish with some guidance from grandmother Lynn Page on Saturday afternoon during the sixth annual Knife River Hardwater Classic Ice Tournament. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 3

BEMIDJI-- In winter in Minnesota, if you want to bring people together, you hold an ice fishing tournament.  

Everything from cars to sled dog teams was parked out on the ice Saturday for the sixth annual Knife River Materials Hardwater Classic on the south end of Lake Bemidji. Scores of people came out to land a lunker -- some in fancy ice houses and tents, others sitting on buckets. Still others didn’t even use a bucket, so from a distance it looked as if they were just standing there in the middle of the lake, staring off into space. All were there to support BSU athletics and hopefully win one of $20,000 worth of prizes in the process.  

Bryan “Beef” Sathre, one of the event’s organizers, said he hoped this year’s turnout would reach 400 people. Hardwater was promoted with advertising spots as far away as Duluth and Brainerd.

“We want to have this as one of the bigger tournaments in the state,” he said. “When you have a tournament that gets bigger… it fills the restaurants, it fills the hotels, people buy gas.”

Although all kinds of fish populate Lake Bemidji, Satchre said the tournament was geared toward Northern pike, walleye and perch.

Billy Benson from Turtle River was poised over a “break” in the lake, where the depth changes from deep to shallow.  He hadn’t caught anything yet in the first part of the three-hour tournament but remained upbeat as he “tracked” a fish on his line.

“You just have to experience it,” he said of the sport. “You drill a hole out in the middle of a flat surface, bring somebody from down South up here… so they can have a little bit of understanding that it’s okay to be out here, that it’s not ‘Ice Road Truckers.’”

It just so happened that on the other end of where the tournament was taking place, there actually was somebody from down south -- way, way down south.  

Although Lainie Hiller lives with her husband in Bemidji, she’s originally from Australia and she’s been ice fishing since 1998. When she explains the sport to her fellow Australians, she said, she describes it as being like the movie “Grumpy Old Men”.

“I love ice fishing,” she said. “Our kids go out, it’s great fun.”

She said although places in Australia exist where ice fishing is technically possible, it’s not very popular there.