Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
It took an event as big as the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza to get Don Ruppert to return to Minnesota.
Ruppert left Brainerd in 1994 for Las Vegas. He had had enough of Minnesota's winters and was looking ahead to retirement. Saturday morning he marched onto Gull Lake wearing the same clothes he wore on a January day in 1992, when he pulled an 8-pound eelpout from the bottom of Hole-in-the-Day Bay and won the second extravaganza.
"I was really concerned about coming back in the wintertime," said Ruppert, who was wearing boots he borrowed from a friend. "I haven't been back since '94. I was worried I was going to freeze to death, but I'm fine."
Ruppert recalled the events that led to his victory.
"The night before I told my wife I was going to catch the fattest eelpout you've ever seen in your life. She laughed. I went with her brother. I found 60 feet of water and put a big sucker minnow right down on the bottom. It was quarter to one when the bobber went down. It just sat there. I waited and waited. At 1 o'clock I yanked it and it already had the minnow way down in its belly.
"Ten minutes later a guy comes running across the ice with another eelpout. It was longer than mine. I freaked out. I thought I was going to lose the truck ... But his weighed seven pounds."
Brainerd Dispatch/Vince Meyer
Ruppert drove that truck as far as he could, finally trading it in. It remains the biggest prize he's ever won. Until Saturday he hadn't ice fished since 1992. He said he would follow the same protocol he used in 1992, but with a twist.
"I got a secret bait from a couple guides who work the Colorado River," Ruppert said. "I'm not going to divulge it. I don't know what it's going to do. But I'm excited to see what happens with it."
Ruppert's eelpout started a five-year run in which an eelpout won every contest. Then in 1997, a northern took the top spot and an eelpout has not won again. Either a northern or a walleye has won every contest since '97.
"I wouldn't mind snagging a nice size northern or walleye," Ruppert said.
He hoisted his gear from his truck and prepared to head out on Gull Lake. He put on a heavier coat. The wind was blowing hard across Gull. It was the extravaganza the way he remembered it and he was eager to get a line in the water.
VINCE MEYER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5862.
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