Madison Legion Post 25 hosts annual fishing tournament

DERRICK NIELSEN (left) and his son Brody took the top prize on Saturday at the second annual American Legion Post 25 Fishing Tournament -- and then donated it back to the Legion. They enjoy fishing together.

The Point on east SD-34 was packed to the gills at 4:00 on Saturday afternoon. The youngest in attendance had the brightest eyes and biggest smiles.

A drawing was being held, and one by one, as numbers were drawn, they were going to the south side of the small bar to get a new fishing rod. As they returned to their parents' sides, they grinned for pictures.

Jim Thompson, one of the organizers for the second annual American Legion Post 25 Fishing Tournament, admitted that they cheated to pull off the feat of having exactly enough fishing rods to give one to every child. The children got tickets as they registered.

"Then we ran back to the One Stop and got five more rods," Thompson said. Altogether, they gave away 13 rods, all donated for the fund-raiser.

American Legion Post 25 of Madison started the tournament last year as a way to raise funds for some of the post's projects, such as Boys State and the Trooper Academy.

"We talked about different ways to raise money and we decided it would be a good thing to do," said fellow organizer Les Hovrud.

Both men are anglers, so it made sense to them. Neither had fished a tournament, though, so they asked around and relied upon experience they have gained in organizing other fund-raising events.

In its second year, the event proved to be successful with 53 registered participants. Altogether, they raised around $1,300, according to the post's finance officer, Pat Mullen. He credited, in part, businesses in Madison and the surrounding area who contributed door prizes.

However, Derrick Nielsen, his wife Abby and their 11-year-old son Brody also supported the Legion by donating their first-place winnings back to the organization.

"It's going to a good cause and it's good to give back to your community," he said.

Fishing plays a big role in the Nielsen family life. Birders travel to add sightings to their bird books. The Nielsens plan trips around fishing.

"My next bucket list fishing trip is I want to go to Alaska and fish for halibut," Abby said.

"Sturgeon," Brody said, noting that he wanted to spear a fish.

"We fish together a lot as a family," Abby reported. Even their 13-year-old daughter Ashlynn, who isn't as passionate about the sport as the others, goes along for the family time.

"We take trips to go camping and fishing," Abby said, adding that the Missouri River is a favorite destination.

But, the Nielsens don't need to get away to get on the water. Since Lake County offers ample opportunity to fish, it's not uncommon for them to end a day that way in summer. Derrick's shift at Manitou ends before Abby's nursing shift, so he'll take the boat out and then pick her up on the dock -- still in scrubs -- when she gets off work.

In winter, they use an ice shanty that Derrick built well over a decade ago. It's got a few amenities which make it a comfortable place to spend a few hours -- or a day: TV, toaster oven. It's also large enough for the whole family.

"It keeps you warm," Brody said, noting what he likes best about it. He admits to preferring summer and fishing from a boat.

This year, with the warmer temperatures, the ice didn't get as thick as it normally does as early as it normally does, but that didn't prevent the Nielsens from enjoying the sport. They just made sure to check the ice.

"You have to drill a lot of holes," Derrick said. "The more holes you drill [to check the thickness of the ice], the safer you are."

Another of the day's winners was area farmer Willem Sunde, who caught the largest walleye at 2.74 pounds. He didn't have an ice fishing shelter, but with a temperature well above zero, he didn't mind.

"As long as you kept your back to the wind, it was OK," he said. For Sunde, the high point of the day was that moment when he saw "that big one coming through the ice."

At the end of the day, organizers were pleased with the attendance and with the funds raised. They credit the weather and people's desire to get out with the success of the event.

"It worked out really good because there wasn't much going on," Hovrud commented.

They hope to see even more people participate next year.