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Lombard man works to build the sport of ice fishing

Published: Friday, March 22, 2013 7:00 a.m. CDT

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LOMBARD — The Google search results for Mike McNett vary. He's quoted in articles, his picture appears on various websites, he's in some video clips and his name is attached to several organizations' pages.

While he's scattered across the Internet, the unifying tie about McNett is that everything revolves around ice fishing.

McNett, a 15-year Lombard resident, is currently the director of the USA Ice Team and formerly served as co-owner and director of the North American Ice Fishing Circuit Tournament Series. He's also plugged into many other aspects of the industry — fishing competitively and directing and producing "Ice Men," a discontinued reality TV show about ice fishing teams.

The idea of drilling a hole into a frozen lake and fishing for hours sounds crazy to some, but it's refreshing for McNett.

"It's always the time of year when the clouds are out and people get depressed," he said. "You need to be outside. Fishing has always been a medicine for me."

He describes himself as a "jack-of-all-trades" in the ice fishing industry, but his work is pretty concentrated. He's perpetually focused on advancing the sport of ice fishing in the U.S.

"I'm the liaison between the athletes and the sponsors," he said. "We're a young federation. What we need most is operating income. We need something where we can pay a few people."

The USA Ice Team was founded in 2008 and is encompassed under the U.S. Freshwater Fishing Federation, an entity that helps create, develop and send teams to participate in world championship events.

In February, the 2013 World Ice Fishing Championship was held in Wausau, Wisc., with Russia winning the gold medal and USA placing fourth out of 11 teams.

"Our goal right now is to host the Bass Fishing World Championship in 2014," McNett said. "The amount of media (from the World Ice Fishing Championship) was insane. That's what we needed."

This year's ice fishing world championship gained widespread attention after several of the athletes were tested for drugs following the competition. It's the policy of the International Olympic Committee to run drug testing of its athletes, and for a developing sport like ice fishing, McNett said it's important for competitors to follow the IOC's rules to be taken seriously.

His ultimate dream? Seeing fishing made an Olympic sport.

Though he won't be picking up a gold medal himself anytime soon. While McNett competed during the early 2000s and had some success, he decided serving in an administrative role was the best way he could add to the industry. His days with ice fishing go back to when he was a child, starting the sport among friends and family.

McNett said if a child doesn't try fishing by the age of 10, the likelihood that he or she ever will go fishing has significantly decreased. In the continual goal to build the sport, it's crucial to focus on fishing activities for children — so he organizes camps and other outings to get fishing poles into their hands.

"It's what drives me, the youth," he said. "It's still my way to stay connected."

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