By the time you read this the Melquists and Ringers probably are back home in Pennsylvania.
Mike and Diana Melquist and their two children and Sherry Ringer and her three children had come to Brainerd from Pennsylvania for the 13th annual Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza. Their plans were foiled when the contest was postponed because of unsafe ice. Thursday morning the families packed their bags and went east. They won't be back Feb. 9, the date on which the contest is re-scheduled.
"It was tough for them," Kristine Welle, manager at Super 8 Motel in Baxter said Friday morning. "They came all that way and had to get permission to take their kids out of school. The kids were going to write a report about the contest."
So much for the "What I did on my winter vacation" theme.
But other than similar stories involving visitors from Michigan and Iowa, most people who had planned to hunker down over an ice hole on North Long Lake Saturday afternoon shook off the postponement as just another victim of this most unusual Minnesota winter. Motels re-booked reservations for Feb. 9 and bait shops told vendors to hold off on that extra 20 gallons of minnows.
But even though an expected 10,000-plus ice anglers won't be on North Long Lake, Brainerd won't be a ghost town, said Sherree Wichter, owner of S & W Bait & Tackle and an adjoining motel.
"There will still be a lot of people around here," said Wichter, who bulked up on tackle in anticipation of the contest. "Most won't want to change their plans and we're hoping they still come. We've had people in the motel since yesterday. They went out and caught some fish so they're happy."
Others in the hospitality business are more cautious.
"Ninety percent of our rooms for the weekend are canceled," Welle said. "But we hope to be 90 percent booked on Feb. 9. But there are a lot of unknowns. We'll just take it one day at a time."
Rescheduling an ice fishing contest isn't hard on bait shops, most of which take their minnow deliveries on Friday. Motels, however, typically take reservations months in advance. Had a hockey tournament or similar event involving large number of kids been scheduled for Feb. 9-10 it could have meant a scarcity of rooms.
"A 12-team tournament with 15 kids per team would have meant that about 150 rooms would have been booked," Ty Eigner, head coach of the Brainerd high school boys hockey team, said.
Suzette Bush, executive director of the nine-member Brainerd-Baxter Lodging Association, said a local sled dog race scheduled for Feb. 9 hasn't been a factor.
"For some reason they're not taking a lot of rooms," Bush said. "There really haven't been any major problems to speak of. (The motels) are working together. If one is sold out for that weekend another one is picking up the extras."
The mood among the Jaycees is upbeat, said Bob Slaybaugh, a tournament organizer who Friday morning was interviewed by Tom Brokaw for the "NBC Nightly News."
"We had a fun meeting Wednesday night," Slaybaugh said. "Nobody's down. This is like overtime in a football game. It's a new opportunity to fine-tune things and make them better. We're looking for new twists to add."
See FISHING / 5A
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.