On Saturday, thousands of anglers packed Minnesota’s Gull Lake in spite of frigid weather. People come from all around the world to attend the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza, where being cold is just one of the perks. Drawing an average of 10,000 ice fishermen every year, the tournament claims to be the largest charity ice fishing competition of its kind. Event organizer Angie Nelson explained, however, that the Brainerd competition is also probably the largest ice fishing event of any kind.

“The crowd we’re estimating, without final numbers, was about 9,600 total on Saturday,” said Nelson, who is also the marketing coordinator for the volunteer team running the competition. “We were really impressed with the numbers of individuals that came out despite the freezing temperatures.”

The anglers attending did not seem to mind, and plenty of frozen smiles could be seen as ice fishermen waited for a prize-winning catch. There was about $150,000 worth of prizes available, including the choice of a new Ford or GMC pickup truck from a local car dealership.

“One in our camp placed 90th and won a nice flash fish finder,” wrote one fan on the competition’s Facebook page. “Last year one of our own placed 10th. It only took them 20 years to finally make the board and stay there…we will continue the tradition as long as we are able because we look forward each year to seeing what kind of weather mother nature will throw at us!”

Mother Nature did not pull any punches over the weekend, and Minnesota was one of many states bracing for another dose of the polar vortex that froze the country earlier in the month.

“It was really cold because of the wind,” Nelson told OutdoorHub. “It was about two above, but wind chill brought that down to nearly 20 below. It was pretty chilly.”

Nelson did add that if there was a silver lining to the frigid temperatures, it was that the ice was the best she had ever seen. For others, the ice and cold were a strange departure from their usual fishing habits.

“Last year we had participants from India and France and this year we actually had participants all the way from Australia,” Nelson said. “It was their first time ice fishing. Some had never set foot on a lake with ice on it, so it was really interesting to have a conversation with them and learn why exactly they wanted to come.”

It took hundreds of volunteers to facilitate the three-hour tournament, as well as drill nearly 20,000 holes in the ice. By 3 p.m. on Saturday, the prizes were awarded and the winners honored. Art Karskay from Nisswa landed the grand prize with a 4.73-pound walleye, but many others also presented their fish for cash prizes or fishing equipment. The competition benefits local charities such as the Confidence Learning Center, an outdoor recreational facility for those with developmental disabilities. It is estimated that the contest has raised over $3 million for charity since it was first held in 1991.

For many contestants, that is a warming thought.

Image courtesy Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza

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