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The fish board at the Hillsdale County Tip-Up Fes­tival. Courtesy | Peggy LoPresto

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.