Finally! Pa. team to vie in U.S. ice-fishing event

Greensburg, Pa. – Mike Kuna was less than enthusiastic the first
time his cousin Bob Griffith asked him to go ice fishing.

Oh how things have changed.

Today, the pair – Kuna, from McCandless Township, outside of
Pittsburgh, and Griffith, of Vandergrift, in Westmoreland County
– are not only ice-fishing partners, they’re among the best ice
fishermen anywhere.

They’re going to have the chance to prove that, too. Come Dec.
15 and 16, they’ll be fishing in the annual North American Ice
Fishing Championship on Lake Henry in Alexandria, Minn.

That’s somewhere Kuna never would have thought he’d be just a
few years ago.

“But once you try ice fishing, it can be addictive. It really
can,” he said. “I’m actually to the point now where I look forward
more to ice fishing than to open-water fishing.”

“He thought I was nuts at first,” Griffith said of Kuna that
first time he asked him to go out on the hard water. “Now, he’s
equally passionate about ice fishing, or even more so, which is
good.”

At the Ice Fishing Championship, Kuna and Griffith will be
something of outsiders. To get to the event, you have to do well at
one of a series of qualifiers – all of which are held in the likes
of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minne-sota and New York, where ice-fishing
traditions are much stronger.

“In Minnesota, you can walk into any convenience store and they
will be selling ice-fishing equipment. It’s a different world out
there,” said Kuna, who along with Griffith does ice-fishing
seminars as a pro staffer for several manufacturers. “Here, you can
jump up and down about ice fishing, and it’s hard to get anybody to
notice. But we’re trying.”

There are no qualifying events for the championship in
Pennsylvania, which is considered to be on the extreme southern
edge of the “ice belt.” In part for that reason, Kuna and Griffith
– who qualified at a Michigan event – are the only Pennsylvania duo
in the 150-team field.

More than that, they’re believed to be the only Pennsylvania
team to ever qualify for the event in its five-year history.

This will be their second trip to the event. They also fished it
in 2005, when they finished 25th overall.

“It’s a pretty big deal for us,” Kuna said.

“We’re going to be fishing against some of the best in the
nation,” Griffith added. “I don’t necessarily put myself in that
category, but on the right day, with a kicker fish, we could do OK.
We definitely have a chance to win.”

There’s a lot at stake at the event. There will be 150 two-man
teams involved, with the winning duo taking home $10,000 in cash
and various prizes.

The event challenges each team to weigh in 15 fish per day.
Anglers can only bring in fish of a particular species.

On one day, anglers may be limited to just crappies; on another,
just bluegills.

The difference between the team that wins and the one that
finishes second is often measured in hundredths of an ounce, Kuna
said, so there’s a lot of pressure.

The real thrill for him, though – at least equal to the allure
of the money and competition – is the fishing itself. In many of
the glacial lakes that host competitions, you can see 12 to 15 feet
down into the water, he said.

“It’s sight fishing, really,” Kuna said. “You’re looking down
and you see fish and you’re learning when to twitch your jig or
when to stop or when to tease the fish up to your bait. It’s sort
of like hunting, where you see a deer coming through the woods and
you learn what to do and when to shoot.

“You just learn so much more by seeing what’s going on down
there.”

Kuna and Griffith will travel to Minnesota the week before the
tournament to get a week’s worth of practice fishing done.

That will involve studying maps and “drilling a few holes,
dropping a camera down to see what we see, maybe catching a few
fish to check their size, then moving on,” Griffith said.

They’ll have a game plan in place for both days of the
championship, too, something they didn’t have the last time, he
added. He believes that cost them a chance to finish in the top
10.

They aren’t going to make that same mistake this time, he
said.

“Hopefully, we can win. I really want to win,” Griffith said.
“We’ve been close a couple of times, but never done it. Hopefully
this is our year.

“We both have a good work ethic, so we’re just going to go out
and work hard and get it done.”

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