Chilli and Chills at the Big Swampy

…by Laura Tutlies

By about 2:30 in the afternoon the wind was blowing so hard on the ice at Squaw Beach in Grand Marais that the volunteers managing the weigh station and canteen for the 5th annual Big Swampy Fishing derby, had to lean into the south facing wall to keep the Tent from blowing over. They were not alone. Many fisherpersons called it a day early and several others actually had their portable shacks give over to the strong winds that blew on Lake Winnipeg on Sunday, March 13th.

Cruel wind, blowing snow and negative temperatures along with impending blizzard warnings from the weather office caused organizers of the Big Swampy to move the annual Big Swampy fishing derby from Saturday to Sunday. Even then Sunday was so miserable that you had to be some hardy to brave the cold for a day of ice fishing. That said it was great fun for participants and the organizers did a fabulous job of keeping everything in order. The kids who braved the day each went home with either a new ice fishing rod or a tackle kit with everything you need except the minnows.

I asked organizer Jean McDonald what she thought was the best part of the day. "Coming home!" she chuckled then added, "Really, our volunteers were just excellent. We all had cold feet not only from the freezing temperatures but also because we had to move the event from Saturday to Sunday. The weather on Saturday put a stop to our initial efforts to pre-dig the holes and to try to set up the canteen and weigh-station. It was hard to know what to do and even after we decided to go ahead on Sunday the wind just kept getting worse. Even with the horrible weather (the worst in the history of the event) we had 128 holes and fishermen - a really good turnout in any kind of weather." Another fisherman qualified the success of the day saying, "The look on my grandson's face when he won a new tackle kit - that made the day for me."

Despite despicable weather the only real casualty in the event was in the number of entries to the 'Chilli bakeoff." As one *(almost) contestant bashfully admitted, "It was so cold out there yesterday (Saturday) that we took home our entry and ate it for supper last night!" All said and done, there was no evidence of missing food. For exceptionally reasonable prices the canteen provided chilli and bannock, hamburgers, hotdogs, perogies - each with all the fixings - plus plenty of hot chocolate and piping hot coffee within easy proximity to all the chilly contestants. Along with cash prizes, more great food awaited contestants in the warmth of the Sandbar Motor Hotel after even the most die-hard fishermen had called it a day.

"We're not wimps, we are still looking for 'the big one'!" laughed Marilyn Anderson of Sandy Bay as she and her daughter Teighlor Porth battled the brutal outdoor weather near the close of the derby at 4:00 P.M.. "But just look behind me." she offered. Peaking through the zippered tent wall were Tessa Porth and Whitney Fogg who huddled together, cozy and warm inside the portable shack. It didn't hurt that they had a heater, music, hot chilli con carne from the canteen and some spicy Doritos to help escape the outdoor chill. Oh my - such is the life of a fisherwoman on Lake Winnipeg.

The biggest fish of the day was registered at 3:50 in the afternoon by John Bear of Brokenhead when he brought in a 24 inch walleye (pickerel) right around the time the weigh-tent was nearly dismantled and loaded up behind the small Caterpillar that had brought all the prizes and supplies out to the lake. To make this fishing tale even more interesting, Bear beat his own previous entry for the day to take both 1st and 2nd prize for the biggest pickerel catch of the day. Sunday morning he had reeled up and registered a 23¼ inch pickerel which looked all day like it would win the contest. Keep in mind this is a 'catch & release' tournament. Did that same fish just nibble away all day teasing the poor losers and then grow an extra inch? (I jest, of course). The biggest Northern Pike of the day belonged to George Bear, also of Scanterbury. His winning 'jack' measured in at 24¾ inches, while Dwight Knott of Grand Marais pulled in a lovely Perch measuring 10¾ inches to take first prize in the Perch category.

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