So I’m cleaning out my birdcage the other day and I ran across an article in the New York Times regarding an event here in my neck of the woods that got me conTIMplating why it’s called ‘neck’ of the woods and not ‘hip’ of the woods or ‘spleen’ of the woods and why it’s even in the woods in the first place. Said event was the World Ice Fishing Championships held last week on the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir (French for ‘large, old, nondescript body of water’) located in the greater Wausau, Wisconsin Metropolitan Area.
Fishermen from eleven countries (counting newcomers Japan and Mongolia) paid their own considerable fares to get to Northern Central Wisconsin, known as “The Northern Central Wisconsin Capitol of the World” because at no other location can one find so much of Northern Central Wisconsin. They came for the prestigious two-day ice fishing tournament to include the lavish and opulent opening ceremonies held at the newly remodeled Fillmore Pub & Eatery, known for its Monster Burgers and free wifi.
During the event itself, anglers compete in ironically-named ‘heats’ of three hours in which they drill holes in the ice and hook as many fish as they can. The team with the weightiest catch wins. Much like the original Cold War, the strategy in this one is often one of “subterfuge and misdirection.” Teams often hide caught fish in their pockets or fanny packs to ward competitors from a particularly productive ice-puncture as well as fend off any potential suitors. The type of fish targeted is also strategized. European and Asian teams tend to shoot for large quantities of smaller perch while the U.S. team likes to emulate the midnight diets of their teenage populace and load up on a bunch of crappie.
Unfortunately, the crappie strategy took a dump this year as cold temperatures made the larger fish inactive and gave the U.S. team something of a casting constipation as there were few crappies to be caught. The Russians thus pulled off their own Miracle on Ice and celebrated in hearty Wisconsin style, though there were some moments of tense confusion until someone illuminated the differences between Putin and poutine.
While it is no mystery that such a festal event garners world-wide media circus-type journalism, the gist of this particular article surprisingly did not revolve around the fact that the athletes in this event are referred to as ‘athletes,’ but rather that said athletes are subject to international requirements for drug-testing.
An official from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was on hand to test the personal urine of these jig-wielding ruffians for steroids and growth-hormones, which had participants and spectators alike wondering why the testing job was not being eliminated by the looming budget sequester.
The reason for the testing is that the U.S. Freshwater Fishing Federation (USFFF) is fighting to make ice fishing an Olympic sport, joining the likes of “Let’s add dressage [horse dancing] to the games” and “Let’s make Nikki Minaj a judge on Idol” as the worst ideas ever. As such, the ice fishing mucky mucks are required to subject their ‘athletes’ to the same stringent doping examination rules as skiers, weight-lifters, and putt-putt golfers. Don’t laugh. In 2011, two minigolfers were stripped of their accolades because they tested positive for banned substances (rumored to be plastic bags and 20-oz. sodas). “Doping is fundamentally contrary to the spirit of the sport,” reads the World Minigolf Sport Federation’s rule book.
“But,” you may ask, “is it seriously necessary to test ice fishermen for growth hormones?!”
This is a fair question but one to which I must respond with a rather sarcastic, “Is Betty White?” Any contest that hopes to be an Olympic game must adhere to the stringent international anti-doping policies that govern all exertive sports including bowling, darts and even chess. (It is true that two bowlers and a chess player have recently been suspended from their respective ‘sport’ for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, though there seems to be no truth to the rumor that the chess nut was roasted over an open fire.)
If the ice fishing drug policies leave you cold, chill. Unlike most governing bodies, it appears that the USFFF has a shred of common sense. “We do not test for beer,” said the chairman with a straight face, “because then everybody would fail.”
At least they would in my crack of the woods.