Mike McNett hopes the USA Ice Team finds a bit of home in Belarus — as in being able to target perch at the 11th World Ice Fishing Championships from Tuesday to Feb. 24 in the Minsk Region of Belarus.
‘‘For us to be able to fish for perch, that breaks the ice for our guys,’’ McNett said. ‘‘That makes them feel really confident.’’
The venue is a rowing canal used by the Belarusian Olympic rowers. On the three practice days, ice fishers will fish around the five grids where the two-day competition will take place.
The competition days consist of three-hour heats with fishers from each country on five grids. Team scores are a total weight caught by the five fishers.
The USA Ice Team is made up of fishers from the North: Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota. McNett, the captain, and Bob Horn are the two from Illinois. Thirteen will make the trip from O’Hare, but five will fish and one will be the alternate during competition.
In the three previous championships in Europe, the USA Ice Team has finished back: ninth in Poland, eighth in Ukraine and 11th in Kazakhstan. Its best finish was gold in 2010 in Rhinelander, Wis.
Being able to catch perch is a big plus this year — ‘‘big’’ being the operative word. McNett said from their information, the perch will be in the 3- to 6-inch range, with some to 8 inches.
‘‘We will have a perch hole and a roach hole,’’ McNett said.
Otherwise, the team primarily will be fishing for European roach (think shiner minnow).
‘‘Three inches is average. Five is a big one,’’ McNett said.
McNett hopes they can draw the perch in and hold them. If that happens, the smaller roach, in essence, are elbowed out.
And he sure hopes the fishing doesn’t come down to bleak.
‘‘They say if you are fishing for bleak, it is bleak, because they are about an inch,’’ McNett said.
For fish that small, they will be using palm rods and line so thin (.08 mm) that McNett calls it thread. He worries if they end up having to target bleak. He said some Russians were using .052 mm line for bleak.
‘‘I couldn’t even see it,’’ McNett said. ‘‘It is really difficult for our guys to go that small.’’
There’s a chance of bigger fish such as pike and zander (a walleye relative).
‘‘Bream, that is really the fish,’’ McNett said. ‘‘If you can catch them, you will win your zone.’’
There is strategy and gamesmanship involved. One strategy is mapping. One coach, Brian Gaber, is a mapping guru. During practice, which is outside of the grids fished during competition, the team will document what it finds on the site, then ship it to Gaber in Rhinelander. He will build a map to use during competition.
The team will be there to compete at a level to win. McNett, who at 48 is hoping this is his last time fishing in a game more for younger men, looks to guys such as Chad Schaub, who took an individual bronze last year.
‘‘We are extremely confident,’’ McNett said. ‘‘This has to be the best team we have had — even when we won the gold. Our guys are fast. If we can get them on the bite, we will do well.’’
For more on the USA Ice Team, go to usaiceteam.com. Follow daily results on Facebook. The site for the world championship is ifwc.by.