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South Boston News / January 29, 2014

With snow falling over Southside this week and the Super Bowl just around the corner, now is an opportune time to remember one of the most famous games in football history — the 1967 NFL championship game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, immortalized as the “Ice Bowl” fought on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

As if to honor the memory, Buggs Island Lake was the staging ground this week for the Virginia-North Carolina version of the Ice Bowl. Only this contest had nothing to do with Lambeau Field, or tundra.

The frozen part? Now that remains operative.

Saturday’s bitterly cold temperatures did little to keep nearly 200 fisherman off Buggs Island Lake in Clarksville for the 6th annual Ice Bowl, a blue cat fishing tournament that pits North Carolina anglers against their Virginia counterparts for bragging rights, a trophy, and a small amount of cash.

It’s not a sanctioned or official tournament, explained this year’s organizer, Michael Lawrence: “It’s a bunch of folks, passionate about the sport, and having fun.”

This year, for the first time, the North Carolina anglers earned the Ice Bowl trophy — a wooden plaque that bears the official logo with the name of the winning state mounted on it. North Carolina’s total haul for the day was 244 pounds of catfish compared to Virginia’s 216 pounds.

The victory for the Tarheel anglers was due, in part, to the nearly 40 pound blue cat caught by Adam Beane of Walkertown, N.C. His was the largest catch of the day, weighing in at 39.8 pounds. Doc Clark of Roanoke had the second largest catch, weighing in at 22.6 pounds.

As the overall winner, Beane gets to decide where in North Carolina the trophy will be displayed for the next year. For the past several years, it’s been on display at Bobcat’s Bait & Tackle in Clarksville.

Asked why anyone would brave 11 degree temperatures just to go fishing, Lawrence said, “It’s a way of life, a passion, and some of the best fishing for blue cats is during the winter.”

That sentiment was echoed by most of the anglers present Saturday, who said they just love to fish, regardless of the time of year or the weather. They proved it last year, as Ice Bowl anglers were pelted by a wintry mix of ice and rain. The wind chill factor made it feel like zero degrees on the lake.

North Carolina angler Chris Bullock began the Ice Bowl — officially known as the North Carolina & Virginia Annual Winter Catfish Championship — six years ago. For years, his bass club in Pitt County, N.C. held a “bragging rights” competition. He thought it’d be fun to bring the same type of competition to Buggs Island Lake. Instead of a club vs. club event, Bullock decided it would be more fun to hold a state vs. state competition, and since it would take place in the winter, the idea was to fish for catfish instead of bass.

Word about the competition quickly spread and soon there were some 50 boats signed up to compete, according to Bullock. After five years, Bullock turned the organizing duties over to Lawrence. For the first time this week, Bullock was able to just “sit back and enjoy the tournament.”

By 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, 85 boats — 50 from North Carolina and 35 from Virginia, each carrying at least two team members — left boat ramp #1 in Occoneechee State Park hoping to catch that one big blue cat that would bring home the trophy for their state. Eight hours later when they returned, with fingers cracked and bleeding from the cold, these hearty men and a few women were laughing, already preparing for next year’s championship.

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