In the 1960s, several ice fishermen threw a few dollars into a hat. Whoever caught the biggest fish won the money. Over the past 60 years, Hillsdale County has continued and expanded this tradition with its annual Tip-Up Festival at Baw Beese Lake.
This year’s four-day festival began on Jan. 23 and continued through Jan. 26 as people from all over Hillsdale County gathered together to fish, hunt, cook, play card games, and more. The Hillsdale County Conservation Club hosts the yearly festivities.
Phil Wines, President of the HCCC, said the Tip-Up Festival got its name from the type of fishing pole ice fishermen use.
“When you catch a fish, there’s a flag that will tip up and let you know you’ve caught one,” Wines said. “It’s like what you see in that Lincoln car commercial.”
Despite the cold and rainy weather, the citizens of Hillsdale County still came out to enjoy this annual tradition. Tip-Up Festival Chairman Peggy LoPresto said, though she couldn’t an exact head count, they had about the same turnout as last year.
“Saturday night I know we had well over 250 people, and on Sunday afternoon there were probably between 250 and 300 people,” LoPresto said.
Wines has been a part of the Tip-Up Festival for seven years now, and he’s seen several changes throughout the years.
“The fishing has always been in it,” Wines said. “Slowly, we’ve added in the other events to keep the public coming out together. The coyote contest has been added most recently, and that was at least 20 years ago or better.”
This year they also served breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings, along with a steak fry on Friday and a pork loin dinner on Saturday. Those who attended the festival participated in chainsaw carving, a euchre tournament, music and dancing, a cash raffle, and other events for children.
Each year, attendees of the Tip-Up Festival vote by ballot for a new mayor. This year they elected Brad Wickham, an active member of the Hillsdale County Conservation Club, who runs the 3D Archery Programs.
“Basically, I get to watch over everything and just have a good time,” Wickham said. “This is my first year being mayor and my fifth year helping.”
He said he enjoys the whole thing, but if he had to choose a favorite part, it would be the ice fishing and the people.
“The fish come in all day long, and it’s fun seeing all the different ones. The guys that go ice fishing will go out in boats, canoes, and kayaks, or if the ice is good they’ll be out there all day, everyday,” he said. “It’s just nice visiting with everybody.”
But the festival is more than just sitting on the ice and waiting for the fish to bite. There’s something for everybody, and the festival brings the community together.
“It’s a whole family ordeal,” Wickham said. “We’ve got games for the kids and if the ice is safe, we’ll take them out fishing.”
LoPresto said the kids are her favorite part of the event.
“I enjoy the kids fishing derby, watching them catch fish. Sometimes they’ve never caught a fish before, and they get so excited about it,” LoPresto said. “I also like the social aspect of bringing people out in the wintertime to visit and see old friends. People don’t really have anything to do in the winter, so this gives them something to do.”
From ice fishing to euchre, the Tip-Up Festival brings people of all ages together for a weekend of outdoor fun.