The 38th annual Hodag Musky Challenge, sponsored by Shoeder’s RV and Marine, was held last weekend on Rhinelander area lakes, and it was a tale of two very different days.
Of the 52 muskies caught during the two day tournament, 37 of them were taken on Saturday, which is the most on a single day in recent tournament history.
There were five different lake groups that were fished: Boom Lake/Wisconsin River, Crescent/Oneida/Hancock Lake, Moen Lake, Pelican Lake, and Lake Thompson/George/Julia.
The Crescent/Oneida/Hancock group was the place to be. The top two teams came out of that group and it also produced the biggest fish of the tournament, a 46.5-inch musky caught by Chad Rudie and Travis Smith.
Winning the tournament was Dan Gropengiser and Jerrod Haenel, both from Rhinelander. All four fish they caught were 40 inches and above. On Saturday they netted muskies that measured 42.25 inches, 46 inches, and 41.5 inches and on Sunday they brought in a 40-incher.
Though they had great success, Haenel said it didn’t come easy.
“We put on a lot of miles on the water and it wasn’t set in one spot,” Haenel said. “There was no one spot where we got all four fish. We were all over the water. We worked for what we got. There was really no strategy behind it. There was no pattern to follow. We tried what other people weren’t doing for the most part.”
No live bait was allowed in the tournament and Haenel said two of their fish were caught with bucktails, one was caught with a rubber bait, and one with a surface bait.
Taking second place was Tim Buffington of Tomahawk and Scott Britt from Iowa. They also fished the Crescent/Oneida/Hancock Lake group and caught four fish, not surprisingly, all on Saturday. Their muskies measured 39.25 inches, 39.5 inches, 45.5 inches, and 38.25 inches.
The team of Andy Smits and Chad Nelson, both from Gillett, took third place fishing the Lake Thompson/George/Julia group. They caught both a 37-inch and 38-inch musky on Saturday, and a 41-inch musky on Sunday.
The tournament was catch and release and fish had to be 34 inches to qualify for points. Additional points were added for every quarter inch above that.
All fish were scored based off of pictures on a tournament certified bump board, which was a change in the format for this years tournament. In all previous years there were judge boats on the water that scored each fish in person.
Other major changes in this year’s tournament were the organizers and tournament venue. Previously run by the Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce, this year’s Hodag Challenge was put on by the Northwoods United Way and it was held out of the Rhinelander Ice Arena.
“This is our first year doing it, but I think if you talk to any fishermen they might say it was cool and they really like it. Because we made some rule changes this year,” tournament organizer and executive director of the Northwoods United Way Nancy Sattler said. “We did self-judge so they would have to send me the picture on their board so I could verify the measurement.”
Haenel said he definitely liked the new format.
“Awesome tournament,” he said. “It was well put together. It was way better than waiting around for a judge boat.”
The Rhinelander Ice Arena also proved to be a fantastic venue as Shoeder’s RV and Marine were able to deck the place out with a fleet of brand new fishing boats.
“It’s our first year of having it here and so it was great space wise and Shoeder’s was able to bring in boats,” Sattler said. “They were our sponsor this year so they could bring in boats and guys have been looking at boats and talking to Shoeder’s about buying boats so it was good for them too.”
Over $20,000 were paid out in cash prizes and 102 teams entered the tournament. Proceeds earned from the tournament went to benefit the Northwoods United Way.
“Our mission statement is to invest in human service agencies in our communities that help make improved lives for everybody,” Sattler said. “So right now we’re funding 26 different agencies in Forest, Oneida, Vilas, and Price counties. Agencies like homeless shelters to food pantries to some youth scholarships, youth sports scholarships, to child development agencies, aging/disability agencies.”
“The guys and couple gals that have fished in it have been really cognizant of that,” Sattler said. “Friday night we were here because we had a rules meeting and we did raffles and they’re very generous buying raffle tickets and supporting us through that, too.”
Proceeds also went to help out the Rhinelander Ice Association.
Rhinelander Ice Arena rink manager Brett Aylesworth said the tournament was awesome and he hopes to continue to host the event well into the future.
“Long time to come. You’ll see it every year,” he said.
Over 200 volunteer hours contributed in making this year’s Hodag Musky Challenge, which had more teams and fish caught than in 2018, a success.
Rhinelander Auto Center and Nicolet National Bank were also sponsors.
Jacob Friede may be reached at [email protected]
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