Out for trout

L’ANSE – A little rain couldn’t dampen spirits at the Baraga County Lake Trout Festival Saturday, and not even the icebergs that still dotted Keweenaw Bay could keep fisherman from their prey.

One-hundred twelve boats registered for the fishing tournament, just shy of last year’s 120 boats, and only a couple weighed in early due to rain, according to tournament Master of Ceremonies Bill LaBissoniere.

Younger fishermen got their chance at the fish pond sponsored by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and stocked by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Natural Resources Department. The fish pond had a steady line throughout the afternoon, and was a highlight of the kids’ carnival.

“I wish we could just reach in and grab ’em,” said Kellen Koskinen, eyeing the trout swimming placidly just a few feet away.

For some kids, it was a chance to catch their first fish ever. But Sam Aleo, 6, who caught one of a few large rainbow trout in the pond with a little help from her big brother Alex, showed her experience when the fish dropped eggs after being pulled in.

“Hey, it’s a mama fish!” she said, laughing, before posing for a picture with her whopper.

The smaller fish in the pond came from the KBIC hatchery, explained tribal natural resources worker Patrick LaPointe, but a few larger ones had been netted in the bay for potential tagging as a tournament prize fish, then added to the fish pond mix.

Participation in other events was also good, according to Penny Jaeger of the festival committee, who cited particularly strong turnout for the volleyball tournament and “more than ever” registered in the Little Miss Superior Talent Contest.

Jaeger said the Lake Trout Festival was unique in that all kids carnival activities were free, thanks to sponsorships from the Ojibwa Casinos and other groups.

“It’s a great way after winter for residents to get outside,” she said. “It’s the first festival of the year.”

Other events and attractions included the Tour da L’Anse bike race at two distances, a half-marathon, a shorter Pequaming Run, a family walk, a Junk Art contest, a wide variety of vendors, a coloring contest, a pie-eating contest, the Lions Falls River Ducky Race, a kids bounce house and obstacle course, and several musical acts running into the evening.

Jill and Bob Sparacio drove up from Downer’s Grove, Illinois to visit Jill’s brother and run in the half-marathon, and said that except for a few mosquitos, the race was well-organized and a lot of fun.

“It was a great run,” Jill said. “I had a deer cheer me on at the end.”

The fishing tourney, the festival’s signature event, had a trailer set up as a stage for weigh-in for the first time, making the pinnacle of the festival even more fun, said Tracy Barrett of the Baraga Convention and Visitors Bureau, the lead organizer of the festival.

The winning boat in the Lake Trout category was Thunderbird, which took home the $1,200 prize for its 45.20 pounds of trout. In the Salmon category, Triple T took home $1,200 for their 22.65-pound catch.

“It’s a great fishing tournament,” LaBissoniere said. “The payout is now over $12,000, with lots of fishermen coming from outside the area.”

Barrett, who’s been involved since the first festival nine years ago, said organizers started the event in hopes of claiming the title of Lake Trout Capital for Baraga County.

“I still don’t know if we can claim the Lake Trout Capital, but the event really took off,” she said, adding that it’s always a good time, especially after the eight months of work it takes to put everything together.

“Seeing everybody here, the smiles, the kids, for me it feels good,” she said.