OSSEO, Mich. — Even though this winter’s warm weather has left the layer on local lakes too thin for safe ice fishing, the 57th annual Tip-Up Festival still drew nearly 400 people on Sunday, the four-day event’s final day.
The festival, named after a device placed on the ice of frozen lakes to catch fish, centers on fishing and hunting competitions. This year, however, the warm weather prevented many would-be fishermen and fisher-children from reeling in a large catch.
“I can guarantee we’re going to be down this year,” said Lottie LoPresto, a ten-year attendee of the festival, before results came in on Sunday.
Indeed, there were only 17 fish on display outside of the Hillsdale County Conservation Club on Sunday afternoon.
“The entire planet is making a little bit of a turn,” said festival mayor, Russell Dalton. “My dad used to drive his pickup across the Detroit River on two feet of ice.”
Dalton said he was selected to be the mayor of the festival by secret ballot and had no say in whether he was voted mayor or the results. As mayor, he is responsible for officiating the events and competitions and has the final say in any disputes.
Besides fishing, there was still plenty to do. This year was the first the festival included a squirrel hunting competition, which was held on Saturday. Twelve two-man teams had four hours to kill up to ten squirrels. At the end of the contest, they picked specific squirrels to enter for the heaviest squirrel competition and the contest for the squirrel with the longest tail.
The winning team, Garrett Adams and Brad Wyatt, killed five squirrels and won 60 dollars.
“It’s something to do when there’s no ice for the tip-up,” Adams said.
The team won by covering a lot of ground, hitting six or seven different sections of woods during the four-hour competition.
Adams said the prize money would go back towards the club, since he planned on spending it on 50 – 50 raffle tickets later that night.
Lynn Rychner, who oversaw the squirrel hunt, said he has seen a drop in participation in this year’s Morenci Sportsman Club squirrel hunt, which is unaffiliated with the Tip-Up festival but demonstrates a problem in the squirrel hunting community.
“This year we had 34 two-man teams compared to 50 in other years,” Rychner said. “We’re trying to get the kids involved; we want the dads taking their kids out.”
In addition to the fishing competition and the squirrel hunt, there was a coyote hunting contest, which began Friday at noon and lasted until Sunday at noon. Team Arnold hunted the most coyotes, and Roger Tate, a Hudson, Mich., resident, bagged the largest coyote.
In addition to these competitions, club and community members gathered on Thursday and Saturday to play Euchre, a traditional card game popular in the Midwest.
Lottie LoPresto said there were eleven tables, with 44 people in attendance for Thursday’s tournament, a slight decline from previous years. The winning team won at least $100, made up of the buy-in money.
Meals were provided throughout the festival: On Friday, there was a steak dinner; Saturday and Sunday both featured all-you-can-eat breakfasts; and Saturday also featured a pork loin dinner. Later Friday night, music was provided by ‘Sound Generator,’ otherwise known as Greg Draper, a local DJ from Jonesville.
Despite canceling the kid’s fishing derby, the club still provided activities for young people.
“We’re going to do some kid’s games, some archery, and some pellet shooting,” said Ted LoPresto, a member of the club for over 40 years who works closely with children in 4‑H and hunter’s safety classes.
The Conservation Club works with 4‑H children from eight to 19 who want to learn skills relating to archery, BB guns, muzzleloaders, and trap shooting, Ted LoPresto said.
“Our objective is to get kids out here,” Rychner said. “To get them off their video games.”