It is that time of year again and while the East Coast is bracing for snow and bitter cold, anglers on Minnesota’s Gull Lake were enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures. Yet the ice on Gull Lake was still thick and solid, bringing in droves of visitors over the weekend. More than 11,000 anglers showed up for the 25th Annual Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza, which is considered the largest annual charity ice fishing contest in the world.
According to the event’s organizers, the warm weather was not only welcome after chilly previous seasons, but also served to bring in new faces.
“After the past couple years of wind and cold, this is exactly what was needed,” stated a press release from the organizers. “The crowd was evidence enough that everyone was ready for the fishing to go on. Participants from as far away as Poland were on Gull Lake trying to ‘catch the big one’ in hopes of winning $200,000 in prizes.”
Among them was Minnesota native Steven Baumgartner, who said he had not been planning to attend the ice fishing event, but was lured in by the practically balmy temperatures. It was fortunate for him that he did so, especially after he won the tournament’s grand prize of a GMC pickup truck after reeling in a 6.73-pound northern pike just 15 minutes before the competition ended. The icing on the cake? It was Baumgartner’s first fish in the contest more than a decade after he first attended the competition.
“Every person who comes here—we all come here for the same reason: to catch the biggest fish,” Baumgartner told the Pine and Lakes Echo Journal. “I just happened to catch it.”
His northern pike was one of the record 1,240 fish turned in over the three-hour fishing competition. Over 400 volunteers were on hand to make sure the fish, which ranged from rock bass to perch, walleyes, and pike, were released successfully. Catches were carefully transported within water-filled bags from the hole to weigh-in and subsequently released under the supervision of a team from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The vast majority of the fish were able to swim back to the depths successfully, while the few harvested were donated to veteran’s charities.
“This was a great day for us, for our contestants and for the entire community,” tournament chairperson Sarah Stenerson said in the press release. “The 25th anniversary of the extravaganza was a phenomenal success.”
All of the proceeds from the competition are donated to charities in the Brainerd Lakes area. The largest beneficiary of the event is the Confidence Learning Center, an outdoor recreational and education center for people with developmental disabilities. Since the first Brainerd Jaycees event was held in 1991, the tournament has raised nearly $3 million for local charities.
Edited 1-28-2015: modified caption for accuracy.
You can see video of the 2015 Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza below: