Fish and windchill bite at ice-fishing contest

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Hardy anglers braved brutally cold temps Saturday in the hopes of catching fish, cash and prizes.

"We're troopers," said Mike Spaulding. He and wife Sue traveled from Bemidji to participate in the 20th annual Park Rapids American Legion Fishing Derby.

This year's contest boasted a whopping $150,000 in prizes.

"It's cold, but there's a lot of nice fish," said derby organizer Jerry Benham.

All told, contestants caught 10 bluegill, 23 crappie, three largemouth bass, 63 northern pike, 117 perch, 78 rock bass, three sunfish, one walleye and two whitefish.

Eric Wenner drove from Odin, Minn. to Fishhook Lake — a five-hour drive north.

"My cousins called and said, 'We're heading to Park Rapids for an ice-fishing tourney,' and I just rode along," he said.

That last-minute decision put an extra $200 in Wenner's pocket. He caught a nice, 2.58-pounder to place seventh in the northern pike division.

The number of contestants was down a bit, due to the weather, said Benham, estimating there were about 2,000 out on the ice.

The windchill forced some anglers to head home early.

One fisherman was overheard telling his buddies that he pulled up his jig only to discover it was coated in a block of ice. "Ah, that's why they weren't biting," he said.

Most Minnesotans were well-dressed and well-equipped for the cold, though.

Kyle Piepkorn was one of three Hubbard First Responders patrolling the contest area Saturday. It was his first year of volunteering at the derby.

"No one is complaining," he said. "Nobody's been injured."