As is the norm, questions are many heading into the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza.
Could this be a record year for attendance?
Who will catch the biggest fish and drive off with the grand prize (a Ford or GMC pickup)?
Will the governor catch a fish?
And which is more brutal - a Texas summer or a Minnesota winter?
OK, the last two are new.
For the first year, the Minnesota governor will attend Saturday's event on Gull Lake's Hole-in-the-Day Bay. Newly elected Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to make an appearance at the 21st annual event.
Greg Bondy and Jon Morgan are first-timers, too. But for them, this is about much more than squeezing hands and mingling with the common folk.
It's go time.
Bondy, of Austin, Texas, grew up near Rochester and knows all about frigid Minnesota winters. Morgan, born and raised and still living in Austin, knows those sweltering Texas summers all too well.
The two are good friends back in Austin. And one night during a party they got into a friendly debate over which is the most, well, uncomfortable - a winter day in Minnesota in, say, January, or a hot summer day in Austin.
Growing up in Minnesota and having lived in Texas for about 20 years now, Bondy has the advantage of experiencing both worlds. After this weekend, Morgan will have, too. Whether the debate will be decided then remains to be seen. But, considering the weather forecast, it's looking good for Bondy.
The two planned to fly into the area Thursday night to participate in the Extravaganza - a dare of sorts for Morgan that evolved from that friendly debate. They'll meet up with Geoff Gorvin of Baxter, a childhood friend of Bondy's who helped orchestrate what Morgan says will be his first true cold-weather experience.
Low temperatures when they hit town Thursday were expected to be in the 25-below range - without the wind chill - but a bit warmer Friday and for the Extravaganza, with temps in the low single-digits about the time the event starts at noon Saturday. That didn't seem to comfort Morgan.
"I'm getting a little nervous," Morgan said from Austin on Wednesday. "Every time I check the forecast it seems like it's getting colder. I can't even fathom that (25 below). I've really never been exposed to below freezing."
Bondy has tried to help prepare his friend for the experience while having some good-natured fun with him along the way.
"I've been trying to help him out - and I've been trying to scare him," Bondy said with a laugh from Austin on Wednesday. "He has this buckskin coat with wool lining that he was going to wear. I thought, 'He's gonna freeze if he wears that.' But he has a ski coat, too. I've been trying to scare him enough that he thinks about (wearing) layers. He told me that he just bought a bunch of layers."
Indeed. Morgan, who has done some skiing in Idaho and Colorado, but always in above-freezing temps, said he's been busy stocking up on winterwear at a sporting goods store in the Austin area.
"We had a stretch last week where four of the five days barely got into the upper 30s. But that was followed up the last three days with temperatures of 65 to 70 and sunny and beautiful," Morgan said of getting acclimated for his trip.
"Jon will get a real appreciation (of Minnesota winters)," Bondy said. "It's been a fun, educational process for Jon. I sent him an e-mail on what wind chill is all about. He's starting to get nervous. And when I saw that snowpants were on sale, I bought him a pair."
Morgan should get plenty of use out of the pants and winterwear. Gorvin, the host, has also rented snowmobiles for the three and plans to take them spearfishing in his shanty on the Whitefish Chain over the weekend.
"I'm excited. I'm looking forward to it," Morgan said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I don't know if I'll make a habit of going ice fishing in the dead of winter. But hopefully I'll be able to say I did it and survive with all my fingers and toes."
Considering that the Brainerd area might be coming out of a wind-chill advisory the morning of the Extravaganza, that might be a goal for Extravaganza participants in general. And there should be plenty of them. Mary Devine, marketing coordinator for the Jaycees, said, "We've pre-sold 7,500 tickets. That's about 500 ahead of where we've been the last couple of years. And historically, we've sold a couple thousand tickets the weekend of (the Extravaganza)."
But the question remains: Who will drive off with that new pickup? Why not a first-timer from Texas?
"I'm hoping to win the tournament," Morgan said, sounding half-serious. "I'm not just going there to play around. I fish some. I wouldn't consider myself a serious angler. I do it when I can."