A selection of panfish caught by par­tic­i­pants in one of the fishing com­pe­ti­tions during the fes­tival.
Brendan Clarey | Col­legian

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.”