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Darin Carignan was sitting on a bucket, ice fishing at Devil's Lake when an idea popped into his head.

He noticed other fishermen on the lake using a combination of rods and reels as well

as tip-ups. Both pieces of equipment have their advantages and disadvantages.

"I just thought, 'There's got to be a better way to do this,'" said Carignan, of Baraboo.

About two years ago, he started tinkering, trying to create a device that would offer the best of both worlds.

Carignan's father, Larry, helped him develop a plastic prototype of a small device that attaches to a fishing rod and displays an orange flag when it detects a fish strike.

Darin Carignan's brother, Mark, field tested the product and offered suggestions that helped them work out the kinks.

Pretty soon they thought they had something good. Now, they know.

The father-son-son team recently beat out 24 other inventors from seven states, winning the grand prize at UW-Whitewater's second annual Inventors Showcase and Competition for their "Firstrike Fish Strike Indicator."

The trio's company, Carignan Innovations, will receive $2,500 in development research for the product.

"With a tip-up you have line everywhere," said Mark Carignan. "You're throwing that on the ice, you're manhandling it with your bare hands and they are getting cold."

He said instead of standing around separate ice holes with their rods and reels, fisherman can use the Firstrike so they don't have to be separated.

"It makes for a lot more social outing," Mark Carignan said.

The Firstrike indicator allows fishermen to turn their poles into a tip-up. When a fish hits, they just walk over and reel it in — with their gloves on.

When used for regular fishing, the device allows fishermen to sit back and chat or read a book, rather than staring at a bobber for hours on end.

While there have been other strike indicators developed in the past, Darin Carignan said the Firstrike product is different because it clips onto a pole without creating a flat spot, allowing the rod to fully bend. It also can be adjusted for sensitivity when fishing in different environments.

The Carignans said attending monthly meetings of the Sauk and Columbia Entrepreneur and Inventor's Club over the last two years helped them gain the knowledge and connections they needed to get their product off the ground.

They met a local Web designer that helped them start firstrikefishing.com, a Web site for their product.

The E&I club meetings allow attendees to network and learn from monthly guest speakers who touch on a wide range of topics, said Karna Hanna, executive director of the Sauk County Economic Development Corporation and E&I club organizer.

She said people who attend not only get to network with others and learn from experts on a wide range of topics, but they can be placed in a statewide e-mail database.

"If we have a question from a club member that we can't answer, we can send a statewide e-mail out and it is amazing the answers that come back," Hanna said. "It allows them to tap into a wealth of resources that are not just here in Sauk County, but through (the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs' Network) and other members statewide."

Hanna said club members were excited and proud to hear of the Carignans' success.

The Firstrike Fish Strike Indicator recently was featured in a product show and 18 stores in three states have ordered it, Darin Carignan said. It is assembled and packaged by workers with disabilities at Northwoods, Inc. in Portage.

As for the future, the Carignan boys say they have other product ideas, but they're keeping those private for now.

"They're top secret," Darin Carignan joked.