Fishing fun at the derby: Annual event draws over 2,000 to the ice on Fish Hook
The 19th Annual Park Rapids American Legion Fishing Derby, held Saturday on Fish Hook Lake, drew anglers from all over the country.
"It's insanity," Bonnie Moore, of Park Rapids, said about her brother-in-law making the trip from Florida, leaving behind warmer climates to participate in the derby.
"But, now I can say I've walked on water," was his reply.
According to Jerry Benham, attendance was up from last year with 3,438 tickets sold and 2,500 anglers on the ice.
"Everything went so smooth," he said. "It was our smoothest year ever."
Contest officials updated their system this year with an automated leader board. In years past all of the results were handwritten.
"This system is mistake free," Benham said.
Every time a fish was turned in to be weighed and registered the results were automatically updated online. Anglers could check the standings from their phones out on the ice, as well as the folks at home. However, all results were unofficial until 5 p.m. at the awards presentation on Saturday.
A new rule went into effect this year. Anglers were given the option to purchase a second ticket for an additional hole.
"Other tournaments in the area were doing it," Benham explained. "Legally in Minnesota you're allowed a second line while ice fishing."
Anglers could purchase the second ticket only after entering the contest area with their primary ticket. They were given numbered orange flags to mark their second holes and at the end of the tournament those flags were entered to win additional prizes, including a new Vexilar.
"It was a bit of an incentive for some folks," Benham said about the added prizes. "We thought we'd sell maybe 100 or 200 but we bought 500 flags and we sold out of them in a heartbeat."
Some anglers were experiencing the derby for the first time, such as Kathy Maki of Bemidji, who said even though she grew up in Park Rapids, this is her first winter ice fishing. She came to the derby with her sister who has entered in the derby each year since its inception.
Russell Heinonen and Lee Niemi, neighbors on Toad Lake, have been participating in the tournament for several years. They call themselves "old school fisherman."
They compared themselves to the younger anglers out on the ice with their top of the line gear and gadgets, seeming to have put in place serious fishing strategies. While the two of them each carried out a plastic bucket containing their ice fishing rods and reels, which doubled as a seat and a small cooler of beer.
"This is a poor man's Vexilar," Niemi joked as he held up a neon green depth finder he had clipped to his jacket.
"Them days are over," Heinonen said jokingly with a wave of his hand toward the eager young anglers moving from various pre-drilled holes. "Never did us much good anyway."
One thing was for certain, spirits were high out on the ice and there was a lot of fun being had with the crowd comprised of all ages.
"The weather has a lot do with it," Benham said about the pleasant weather conditions and positive attitudes during Saturday's contest. "Some sunshine wouldn't have hurt but the mild temperatures were great."
Although most anglers responded with a resounding "no" when asked if anything was biting, some were having more luck, with 329 fish registered by the time the contest closed on Saturday.
There were 181 perch, 52 rock bass, 43 northern pike, 22 sunfish, 22 bluegill and 9 crappie turned in to be weighed.
George Rudquist of Menahga caught a northern weighing 1.88 pounds, making his the 19th largest fish and landing him the grand prize - a 2017 Itasca Vacation Series Ice Castle Fish House.
Other winners included:
• Bluegill & Crappie Division - Carol Nelson of Park Rapids took first prize with a 1.31 pound crappie; Paul Buchholz of Vesta, Minn. took second prize with a .68 pound crappie; and Tomm Gaughan of Menahga took third prize with a .56 bluegill.
• Northern, Walleye, Largemouth Bass Division - Leroy Phillips of Park Rapids took first prize with a northern pike weighing 2.99 pounds; Heidi Scott of Alexandria took second prize with a northern pike weighing 2.90 pounds; and Joe Bartusiak of Osseo, Minn. came in third with a northern pike weighing 2.83 pounds.
• Perch Division - Duane Korfe of Verndale won first prize with a .61 pound perch; Scott Gingerich of Park Rapids took second prize with a .58 pound perch; and Dave Thielen of Park Rapids took third prize with a .52 pound perch.
• Rock Bass Division - Jason Gohman of Park Rapids took first prize with a rock bass weighing 1.13 pounds; Richard Johnson of Fergus Falls took second prize with a rock bass weighing 1.04 pounds; and Nick Ohmann of Albany, Minn. came in third with a .94 pound rock bass.
• There were no fish registered in the White Fish Division this year.
First prize winners went home with a Polaris ATV, second prize winners took home $500 cash and third prize winners received $400 cash.
For a full list of Saturday's winners visit parkrapidsicecontest.com.