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03-14-06 Fishing for prizes

By Laura Walker

  Catching food and winning money -- it's not a bad hobby at all.

Caleb Madaj of Coldwater fishes for crappie from the docks at Windy Point on Sunday. Heading out to the lake for more crappie fishing are Larry Cunnagin and Jeff Hoenie, both of the Montezuma area. Local fishermen are gearing up for the first crappie tournament on the lake on April 22, with catfish tournaments starting Saturday. Skill, gear, weather and luck contribute to how big and how many fish competitors will bring back. Tournament fishing is typically open to the public and brings anywhere from 12 to 400 boats onto the water for each competition.<br></br>

  Local fisherman take to the waters Saturday, starting a slew of tournaments on Grand Lake slated for the 2006 season.

  "It only takes one (fish) to place in a tournament," crappie fisherman Jeff Hoenie says.

  He and his neighbor, Larry Cunnagin, live on the south side of Grand Lake and have been fishing together in tournaments for four years. They began 2005 by winning the first tournament of the Buckeye Crappie Challenge Series at Indian Lake.

  They fished more than 10 tournaments last year, including the Crappie USA tournament on Grand Lake. Throughout these tournaments they brought home several second, third and fourth places. They also qualified for the Caesar's Creek Challenge, where they placed fourth and won more than $500, with only one fish, a 1.45-pound crappie.  "You weigh your eight biggest fish," Hoenie explains, adding that every tournament's rules are a little different.

  Some local tournaments allow fishing from the bank or boat, while other tournaments only allow fishing from a boat.

  Dan Manning, owner of St. Marys Eastbank Marina and Outdoorsman, St. Marys, expects the first tournament, the Outdoorsman Catfish Tournament on Saturday, to be won from fishing on the bank. He says as the water warms, the big fish will move out into the lake.

  Hoenie makes his own lead heads and bait worms for the tournaments. In crappie tournaments, live and artificial bait may be used and Hoenie carries a selection from neons to standard white jigs.

  "There's a lot of guys who buy their own bait and do very well," he says. "We just choose to make our own and experiment with different colors."

  Hoenie adds that the old "wives tale that says bigger bait, bigger fish is not always true."

  Not only is it skill and luck, but the weather will contribute to catching fish, he says.

  Cunnagin says he often takes the time to fish the lakes prior to the tournament so he can find the good spots.

  Manning says catfish tournaments have been held at the St. Marys Eastbank Marina and Outdoorsman since 1989 and many of the fishermen are dedicated to this competition. He has not had to cancel one tournament, he says, adding that most boaters know when to get to safety.

  "Most are hard core fishermen, the uglier it (weather) is the bigger catfish you catch," Manning says.

  He also says polygraph or voice stress tests are common at tournaments to be sure no fishermen are cheating, especially when thousands of dollars in prize money is at stake. The officials are checking to make sure the winning fish was caught during tournament hours, at the tournament lake and that the fisherman followed all rules.

  "We polygraph all our tournaments," Manning says. "We have (had liars), but not for a number of years ... it weeded out the liars, once they found out we meant business."

  Brian Miller, assistant manager of Grand Lake St. Marys State Park, says most fishing tournaments on Grand Lake are open to the public. Although, some are open to club members only and some may require qualifying. Regardless, he says anyone can be out on the lake fishing during tournament times.


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