Despite the cancellation of Lake Decorah’s annual fishing tournament, nearly 200 people turned out in support of the Guardians of the Lake fundraiser.
The 6th Annual Lake Decorah Restoration Ice Fishing Tournament was called off three days before the event, as an unusually warm winter and heavy snowfall threatened the condition of the ice. The Saturday event continued on with a chili dump, beverages and a raffle. Featured prizes included a Milwaukee Tools radio, a 4-person game of golf, custom fishing rods and an Igloo Trailmate cooler.
“I was pretty surprised to see that many people down there without the fishing, but there’s many people that support that entire project,” Mauston city council Chairperson Rick Noe said. “That is good to see.”
The Guardians of Lake Decorah are still counting the proceeds, but they believe that their totals will be comparable to, if only a bit less than, previous years. The event usually brings in between $7,000 and $9,000 for Lake Decorah’s restoration. The lake faces challenges related to sedimentation and resulting eutrophication from high concentrations of nutrients in the water and aquatic plant growth.
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Guardians President Jordan Wilke, who also serves as Mauston’s superintendent of Parks, Forestry, and Cemetery, said the decision to cancel the tournament was not taken lightly. The organization had the safety of attendees in mind.
“Our ideal conditions, when we have a larger event with people coming locally and from afar, is six plus inches,” Wilke said. “But the ice conditions that we’re seeing with this warm weather and a few days in the 40s and over a half-inch of rain Monday night… that really deteriorated the ice.”
Decorah typically freezes later than most lakes due to the Lemonweir River flowing through it. With weather conditions worsening last week, the ice had become completely open in several areas where ice fishing is popular.
The tournament is typically held in the first week of January, but was pushed back as a response to warmer weather. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources also hosted its free fishing event last weekend, where anyone can fish without a license.
“Typically in mid January, you’re not going to expect these types of temperatures,” Wilke added. “Even the state thought it was going to be a good weekend.”
Proceeds from the past four years have gone toward a DNR cost-sharing grant for lake management studies. The Guardians are currently working on a Nine Key Element plan, which will provide a framework for improving the Decorah’s water quality. The nine elements, as designated by the Environmental Protection Agency, help determine the causes and source of pollution.
“Once that’s completed, it should give us some kind of direction on where to proceed next with restoring our lake,” Wilke added.
While the cancellation of the fishing tournament no doubt impacted the Guardian’s annual celebration, Wilke believes the event was a success. Major sponsors and donors still showed up, and the chili dump was reportedly “a hit.”
“We were pleasantly surprised with the turnout we did have. Our tent was full, that’s for sure,” he said.