WALKER -- The Olympic "torch" will burn brightly in coming weeks when Fishing the WildSide's On-Ice Youth Olympic Trials visit selected Mills Fleet Farm stores in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
Designed to introduce youngsters to ice fishing, the On-Ice Youth Olympic Trials also will prepare them for the third annual On-Ice Olympics, to be contested in conjunction with the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza on Jan. 17 on Gull Lake. Locally, the trials are scheduled for Jan 16 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Mills Fleet Farm.
"Our whole mission with the Olympics is to inspire interest in the sport from a youth aspect," said Chip Leer, co-founder of Fishing the WildSide, an educational and promotional company based in Walker. "We want to encourage families and kids to get out on the ice and participate in this sport.
"Ice fishing is more than sitting outside attempting to catch fish. It can be a family event with participation on many levels, from grilling food to playing football on the ice to catching a few fish."
Leer and Tommy Skarlis, Fishing the WildSide's other co-founder, designed the Trials to simulate the actual hard-water experience.
"With a little snow in the parking lot, we believe we can transport people from the asphalt into the world of ice fishing," Leer said.
To that end, Fishing the WildSide will set up a 45-foot trailer and a large, heated tent that will allow the Trials to take place regardless of weather.
"It's kind of like a giant ice fishing shelter," Leer said.
Inside, participants can try their hand at events similar to those that make up the On-Ice Olympics at the ice fishing contest, including drilling holes with a hand auger, cooking on a Coleman grill and catching artificial fish. To complete the course, anglers are required to stow all their gear in an Otter Outdoors sled and drag it across the finish line.
"The real On-Ice Olympics have become quite an event," Leer said. "We present gold, silver and bronze medals to the top three finishers in four age categories, plus we hand out more than $5,000 in prizes from StrikeMaster, Otter Outdoors, Coleman, Berkley, Lindy Legendary Tackle, Northland Fishing Tackle and Beckman."
Skarlis said the Trials are a modified version of the actual On-Ice Youth Olympics.
"It's not a qualifying event," he noted. "Anybody can come compete at the awesome Youth Olympics in Brainerd. This provides an idea what's in store there. There's a lot more, but I don't want to ruin any of the excitement. People should stop out and see it for themselves."
Everyone who attempts the Trials course is eligible to win a weekend for four at the Brainerd ice fishing contest.
It won't be difficult to find Fishing the WildSide's On-Ice Youth Olympic Trials. "Just look for the trailer and tent," Leer said. "And if anybody is confused, they can look for that Olympic flame that will be lit outside the trailer. In the spirit of the On-Ice Youth Olympics, that flame is provided by a Coleman North Star lantern."
For more information on the Trials, the Brainerd Jaycees contest or the actual Youth Olympics, visit www.onicetour.com or www.fishingthewildside.com.
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