Looking forward to Saturday | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

Looking forward to Saturday

A look back to '02 should give anglers reason for optimism heading into the 2012 Extravaganza

Posted: February 9, 2012 - 10:28pm
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File Photo: While the snow flurries fly by, Leslie Haff of Brainerd, Minn watches her bobber during the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza on Hole-In-The-Day Bay on Gull Lake north of Brainerd Minn. Saturday, Feb 9, 2002. Billed as the world's largest ice fishing contest,the tournament had to be moved from Jan. 19 to Feb. 9 because of thin ice conditions. According to tournament sponsors, approximately 9,000 anglers fished in the contest this year.  AP Photo/Brainerd Dispatch, Steve Kohls
AP Photo/Brainerd Dispatch, Steve Kohls
File Photo: While the snow flurries fly by, Leslie Haff of Brainerd, Minn watches her bobber during the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza on Hole-In-The-Day Bay on Gull Lake north of Brainerd Minn. Saturday, Feb 9, 2002. Billed as the world's largest ice fishing contest,the tournament had to be moved from Jan. 19 to Feb. 9 because of thin ice conditions. According to tournament sponsors, approximately 9,000 anglers fished in the contest this year.

If it’s anything like the last time, Jim Davis might want to change his plans. Same goes for anyone who couldn’t accommodate this delay.

Saturday’s 22nd annual Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza will mark the 10-year anniversary of the last — and only — time that the event was postponed. In fact, it will be almost 10 years to the day that the 2002 Extravaganza — on Feb. 9 — boasted arguably the best and deepest leaderboard in the history of the tournament.

Tracy Smith of New York Mills won with a 9.32-pound northern pike. But after that, it was one nice walleye after another. Richard Stach of Monticello was second with an 8.44-pound walleye and Neal Widme of Detroit Lakes was third with a 7.85-pounder. In fact, aside from the first-place pike, large walleyes made up the remainder of the top 20. Tenth place was a 4.88-pounder and 20th was 3.22 pounds.

“It seemed like the best year ever for size and for walleyes,” said Davis, the tournament chairman in 2002. “For the first few years after that I remember thinking we had a great year. The number of fish were high.”

This year’s tournament is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday on Gull Lake’s Hole-in-the-Day Bay. It originally was scheduled Jan. 21, but because of unseasonably warm weather and, in turn, poor ice conditions on Gull, it was pushed back three weeks, just as it was in 2002.

“I remember it being much warmer,” Davis, co-owner of Davis & Lang Chiropractic, said of the 2002 contest. “I remember being on the ice the day it was originally scheduled to be held, and as we were measuring the ice we were listening to the radio and it said it was going to be warmer in Brainerd than in Tampa, Fla.

“But then we had a big-time cold snap.”

Up to now, that hasn’t been the case this year. But on Jan. 25, another check on Hole-in-the-Day Bay found 18-plus inches of consistent ice across the tournament site, prompting Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl to issue a permit for the event that day. But unlike ‘02, areas across Gull remain a concern. As a result, law enforcement will be at the Gull Lake accesses and limiting travel on the lake to snowmobiles and ATVs while stressing that participants use the shuttles that run to Hole-in-the-Day Bay. And according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Highway 371 traffic will be a single lane at Gull Lake to allow for the shuttle bus/vehicle drop-off site.

“I was (nervous) until the moment we finally got the OK,” Davis said of avoiding a cancellation in ‘02. “There was well over 20 inches of ice. But it was a big relief. Sure, I was really concerned. It was the first time it had been postponed.”

After it was postponed, the ‘02 tournament was to be moved to nearby North Long Lake because of the poor ice on Gull. But thanks to the cold spell, a check at Hole-in-the-Day Bay showed more than enough ice and the event was moved back to its home on Gull.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Extravaganza in ‘02, Davis said it drew more than 6,000 anglers; the tournament typically draws abut 10,000. And despite the postponement and ice issues this year, Davis is expecting a better crowd this time around.

“I think the attendance will be better (this year than in ‘02) from the standpoint that we thought we might have to move it to another location and that it was postponed. There was a little more apprehension over if we would have it (in 2002).”

This year, the top 150 fish weighed will be good for more than $200,000 in prizes. First place is a Ford or GMC pickup. Other prizes include Arctic Cat ATVs and an Ice Castle fishing house.

Tickets may still be purchased and will be available at the tournament site the day of the event. For tickets or more information, go to www.icefishing.org. For updated traffic, weather and travel information, go to www.511mn.org.

“I’m 40 (and no longer eligible for the Jaycees), so now I can technically fish it, but I have a prior commitment,” Davis said of the ‘12 Extravaganza. “I think I helped out (with the tournament) for 15 years.

“Absolutely not,” he added when asked if he was an avid ice fisherman. “But I’ll definitely be supporting the Brainerd Jaycees (in the future) at the contest.”

BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at brian.peterson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5864. To follow him on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/brian_speterson. For his blogs, go to www.brainerddispatch.com.