Chances are good they'll never again hustle this hard in their coming years as ice fishermen.
On Saturday, Feb. 9, before the start of the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza, 150 children gathered on Gull Lake for the first On Ice Olympics. Over the next hour they performed the same tasks ice fishermen everywhere perform, but with a twist. Instead of proceeding at the leisurely Saturday-afternoon pace ice anglers are accustomed to, the children went as fast as they could. Winners were rewarded with medals and gear. The rest also got free gear, courtesy of contest-sponsor On Ice Tour.
"I think the kids had a blast and we had fun with it too," said Chip Leer, a Walker area fishing guide who in 1998 co-founded On Ice Tour with pro fisherman Tommy Skarlis.
Leer said the On Ice Olympics were planned during the long hours he and Skarlis spend on the road each winter promoting ice fishing.
Ice fishing isn't all about fishing, as any veteran angler will tell you. Contestants in the On Ice Olympics learned another important component in the ice fishing experience -- tending the grill. (Dispatch Photo by Vince Meyer)
"We wanted to find a way to get more families involved (in the Ice Fishing Extravaganza)," Leer said. "One of our goals is to expose youngsters to ice fishing in positive manner, to show them it's not all about catching fish. It's about having fun with friends. If we plant the seed and one of them ice fishes when he gets older we'll have accomplished our mission."
The course went like this: From the starting line each contestant began by drilling a partial hole with a hand auger. Then he or she removed the slush, set up a portable fish house, ran to a tipup and reeled in a fish (decoy), ran to an AquaVue and turned the underwater monitor until he or she found another fish (another decoy), identified that fish, ran to a grill and flipped a steak, grabbed a Polar Vision (hand-held) depthfinder and checked the depth, picked up a rod and reel and jigged it three times, then ran to a Fish Trap portable and threw an assortment of gear into the sled and pulled it across the finish line.
Contestants were divided into age groups of 8-and-under, 9-11, 12-14 and 15-and-over. All were accompanied by an adult. Gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to the first through third place finishers in each age group. All contestants were given either a Lazer hand auger, Coleman tent, rods and reels from Berkley and tackle from Northland Tackle and Lindy Little Joe.
The best moment in ice fishing -- reeling in a fish. At the On Ice Olympics contestants actually reeled in a decoy, but the simulations to real ice fishing were all part of the fun. (Dispatch Photo by Vince Meyer)
Everybody had their favorite part of the contest. For Josh Rach, Breezy Point, who competed in the 12-14 age group and who posted the best time among all contestants, the choice was easy.
"Flipping the steak," he said, "because I like steak."
Rach had better luck in this contest than he has had in two previous Extravaganzas. "I've never caught a fish," he said. "But I will try to come every year."
Any child can enter the contest, which the Jaycees and On Ice Tour would like to make an annual event. Just buy a ticket to the Extravaganza and show up at the contest site with an adult. In coming years the course might be altered to make it even more challenging, Leer said, and it will always retain the aura of the Winter Olympics. There even was a torch (Coleman lantern) lighting to kick off the festivities.
No matter where contestants finished in the On Ice Olympics everyone took home a prize. Fishing tackle was supplied by Berkley, Northland Tackle and Lindy/Little Joe. (Dispatch Photo by Vince Meyer)
"They did a fair job with the opening ceremonies in Salt Lake City last night," Leer said. "But in all honesty I think ours was better."
The top three finishers in each age group at the On Ice Olympics are as follows:
8-and-younger: 1. Alex Anderson, 2. Tyler Gapinski, 3. Mary Kolberg
9-11: 1. Aaron Weiss, 2. Clarissa Metzer, 3. Tyler Lamson
12-14: 1. Josh Rach, 2. Derek Reinking, 3. Derek Novak
15-and-older: Matt Pervo, 2. Ross Hammers, 3. Darrin Oelfke
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