Imagine 10,000 people on a 2-mile area of frozen lake that has been drilled to Swiss cheese all vying for $150,000 in cash and prizes. The World Curling Championships? The Bering Sea Golf Tournament? Not hardly - all these participants are braving the frigid winter weather to compete in the largest ice-fishing tournament in the world - the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza.
Taking place in Brainerd, Minnesota every January for the last 15 years, anglers have traveled from as far as England, Chile and Germany to get their name on the scoreboard. And to some, getting their name on the board is all that matters, but this tournament has a twist - the order on the board is really not that important! While the Tournament pays the top 150 places, it doesn't do so in a traditional descending-prize format. While the first place angler who catches the biggest fish receives the grand prize of a new Ford F-150, things quickly get random after that. Take for example 100th place of $10,000 - be glad you weren't 99th unless you really needed a new Mr. Heater. This random prize order theme holds throughout the entire leader board. 50th place walks away with a new Polaris 500 Sportsman ATV while 49th stays warm with an Ice Armor fishing suit. The point is - there is no point, and everyone is just content with having fun in the middle of the winter.
However, if you are trying to get on the scoreboard, keep in mind that time is equally as important as size (when fish tie in weight anyway). Since the tournament is only three hours long, you have to hustle once a fish is landed. It is often a foot race to get to the weigh-in station first when the bite gets hot and heavy. If you think watching someone run to a weigh-in station with a live fish is funny, watch one do it on ice while wearing winter coveralls and Pac boots, while 9,999 other anglers cheer them on.
But many anglers come for the excitement and experience and not necessarily the prizes. Beau Rauner from Sidney, Nebraska braved the harsh winter weather and 1,000 miles to attend the 2005 Extravaganza not for prizes, but for fun. "It was an experience of a lifetime. Never have I seen that many guys on the ice at one time - they are simply crazy about ice fishing in Minnesota and it is a true testament to the winter outdoor enthusiasts. I didn't have any expectations of winning - and I didn't, but I had a great time and plan on going again."
The tournament is open to anyone and anglers can purchase up to two holes, which volunteers drill 20,000 of the night before. But regardless of how experienced or new to the sport you may be, don't expect to catch big fish. This year's largest fish was caught by Sara Kitzmann of St. Cloud Minnesota - it was a walleye that tipped the scales at 3.71 pounds. But when it comes to the most valuable fish, at least in terms of weight versus reward, Jason Himmelwright's whopping half-pound walleye netted him a check for $10,000 making it possibly the most valuable walleye in all of Minnesota.
But even with the staggering monetary numbers floating around, few forget it is all for a good cause. 70% of the proceeds from the Extravaganza go to Confidence Learning Center, while the remaining 30% goes to other charities.
If you would like more information on the attending next year, check out the Brainerd Jaycees web site at www.icefishing.org