A bare, 250-acre site of ice and snow off Gull Lake’s Hole-in-the-Day Bay, north of Brainerd, off Highway 371 — will turn into its own city with a population of up to 10,000 Saturday for the Brainerd Jaycees’ annual $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza.
The contest not only attracts people in the Brainerd lakes area but people from 22 states and 11 countries. They make the trek to Gull Lake for the love of the sport, along with high hopes to win a truck or one of the other 150 prizes valued at more than $200,000.
Brainerd Jaycees have been busy bees during the days leading up to Saturday’s event where around 10,000 are expected to compete in this year’s 24th annual extravaganza.
Matt Castle of the Brainerd Jaycees, who is chairing this year’s fishing contest, said around 400 volunteers, mainly from the Jaycees, but also from other charitable organizations, will help run the event and about 100 of those volunteers were out Wednesday and Thursday and again on Friday to turn the ice into a contest city.
Roads were plowed Wednesday. Tents were set up to provide areas where tickets will be sold, where fish will be weighed and for the volunteers to work in were set up Thursday. And then beginning around 10 a.m. Friday, about 100 volunteers will drill around 20,0000 holes.
It takes organizers two days to set up the contest site (excluding the drilling), four hours to fill the space on Saturday and three hours to take the site down. The Jaycees spend about 50,000 hours in a nine-month period to plan and execute the contest.
Castle said organizers helped “National Geographic” set up tents Thursday on the ice. This is the national magazine’s second appearance at the contest. “National Geographic” featured the contest in 1992.
The ice fishing contest has become a big media draw. National media that have appeared at the contest include “Sports Illustrated,” “The New York Times,” ESPN and “Smithsonian” magazine.
Despite the frigid cold out on the lake, Castle said organizers were getting what they needed to get done to prepare the contest site for Saturday.
“I encourage everyone to come out and celebrate the sport of ice fishing,” Castle said. “It’s a spectacular event ... Come out and support the Jaycees and Camp Confidence.”
Camp Confidence is the primary beneficiary of the event. However, more than 50 organizations in the Brainerd lakes area have received donations in the history of the event, which is likely to exceed $3 million in charitable donations this year.
Tickets are $45 and are available for purchase online at www.icefishing.org; at Brainerd area outlets; and on the ice on the day of the event.
Castle said the Lindy Big Fish Bounty is back again this year, where the 24th place winner can earn $3,000 in addition to the $2,400 on the prize list if they catch the winning fish on the special edition Emerald Shiner colored Lindy Rattlin’ Flyer Spoon available only at Mills Fleet Farm stores. Also returning this year after a one-year hiatus is the Catch of the Day Extravaganza Give Away, an additional contest within the Extravaganza, giving participants the chance to win a prize package valued at $9,000 for an additional $5. Stamps for this contest may be purchased online and again at Mills Fleet Farm in Baxter.
Castle said the mystery fish will be the perch for the Catch of the Day.