Sunday, April 11, 2021

Montanans go national!

| March 18, 2021 12:00 AM

Montanans go national!

Anyone who has ever fished a tournament has probably wondered how they would stack up on the national scene. Whether you have fished open water bass or walleye events, or ice fishing events, a competitor enjoys the satisfaction of putting their skills and equipment to the test.

I know this personally as I was the tournament director for the Perch Assault tournament for over 12 years in Montana, and have both promoted and competed in ice fishing events from Montana to Wisconsin.

Tournament fishing is addictive no matter how good you are, and even more so when you get a taste of victory.

There are many ice anglers competing locally in the Perch Assault and the Wild West Panfish Trail that have the skills and the equipment to fish in other competitive events, but not everyone has the ability to travel to other states to compete.

The North American Ice Fishing Circuit (NAIFC) has had a qualifier event at Hebgen Lake for the last 7-8 years, and at first many of the anglers that compete on the mostly midwestern-based NAIFC would travel west for the big weights that would help them in their Team of the Year standings.

Rule changes after the first 3-4 seasons no longer benefit those anglers, so that event has become mostly a Western-based series, still competitive, and still a good opportunity to compare skills, but no longer drawing “National” level competition.

No, if you want to compare your skills against the best anglers in the U.S., you have to travel to states like Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota and fish for crappie and bluegill.

Strange enough species for most Western anglers, and certainly on waters that we have to start from scratch on.

I have competed in four NAIFC National Championship events, usually held in December for the teams that competed the previous January, February and March, and always based on my qualifying well at Hebgen, fishing for rainbow trout.

This year’s 2020 event was moved from December to March, and I was invited at the last minute to fish the rescheduled event to replace an angler on a team out of Idaho.

While I am getting better at figuring out crappie and bluegill, I had never stepped foot on either of the lakes, and the results showed at the end of the two- day event.

Let’s just say we struggled and leave it at that!

One team out of Montana this year DID dedicate the time and resources to travel the circuit, qualifying for both the 2020 and 2021 Championships, and fishing last weekend's event in Naytawash, Minnesota.

Thane Melton from Bigfork and Tim Marsh from Helena, both regulars in the Perch Assault series for years, teamed up and fished the 2021 series, competing in four of the six qualifying events.

While their 2020 Championship result of SEVENTH PLACE out of 27 teams was admirable, their performance in 2021 was what really earns them my respect.

While skipping two of the six events in 2021, Marsh and Melton placed SECOND in the overall in Team of the Year standings, beating out former National Champions and Team of the Year winners, and came within whiskers of beating the team of Chad Schuab and Anthony Rodriguez, anglers who fished five of the six, have won damn near everything they have entered, and who both have success in WORLD championship events representing Team USA for the last 6-8 years. These two beat the circuits top anglers, on their local waters, and gained the respect of them all while doing so.

I couldn’t be prouder of a team out of Montana, who both credit the Perch Assault for their competitive chops. I would be even prouder to see more teams follow in their footsteps. We have plenty of bluegill and crappies to practice on in the Flathead, and the midwest is beautiful in the winter!

I’ll see you (somewhere) on the water!

Howe is the owner/outfitter at Howe’s Fishing, A Able and Mo Fisch Charters. Call 406-257-5214 or at