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Osage fishing derby brings out the kids

Jake Eischens, 11, of Park Rapids, is a study in concentration as he removes ice from his fishing line. Jake and brother Jordan both fished. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 3
These Park Rapids youngsters posed before grabbing their fish poles. They are, from left, Brynn McComas, 5, Shelby Leckner, 7, Aidan McComas, 8, Jackson Leckner, 10, and Sammy Leckner, 3. Kids were awarded more than 200 prizes donated by area businesses, clubs and charities.2 / 3
Dozens of kids and their parents spread out across the ice on Straight Lake Sunday in the quest for the perfect fish. They were competing for a lifetime Minnesota fishing license - enabling them to catch more.3 / 3

There have been growing concerns over the years that kids would rather park themselves before a video game than fish.

Those concerns stop at Straight Lake. Dozens of youngsters of all ages, sizes and snowsuit colors dipped fish poles into the frozen Mill Pond section of the lake Sunday afternoon, competing for a grand prize lifetime Minnesota fishing license.

The annual Dorothy Noeske Memorial Fishing Derby, named for a longtime Osage resident, business owner and fishing enthusiast who died of cancer, is a big hit with kids. And when the "experts" come as young as 4, it's a sure bet fishing will be ingrained for a lifetime.

Exhibit A: Bowden Hasbrouck, of Nevis. The 4-year-old was competing in his second tournament. He didn't catch a fish last year, but he said he was hoping to this year. His pledge, however, was barely audible through his camouflaged snowsuit. He was bundled head to toe in down.

Exhibit B: Shelby Peters, 5, of Alexandria.

"I caught a sunfish last year!" she beamed. She was fishing with mom, Jennifer, and family members from the area.

The tournament is sponsored by the Osage Sportsmans Club. Members sold 2,000 raffle tickets to help fund the event. Volunteers were all over the lake, selling more tickets, getting kids registered for prize drawings and passing out "yardsticks" to measure the keepers. OK, they were 6-inch lengths of plastic, but to a kid, anything that measured up was whopper-sized.

Kids (and adults) competed to catch sunfish, bluegills, crappies and strings of fish.

Planning for the event takes months. Club members coaxed area businesses, non-profit groups and other organizations to donate 200 prizes, no small feat in a troubled economy.

"This is all aimed toward the children," said club member Craig Thompson.

A brisk wind and below-freezing temperatures didn't discourage the pink-cheeked youngsters.

Well, maybe one. A little guy was wailing before the tourney bell sounded to start things off.

He needed a nap.

Park Rapids brothers Jordan and Jake Eischens, 9 and 11, have been fishing the tournament for years. They were with their mom, Kristine. "They're die hard outdoors boys," she said.

The boys also had numb fingers. They had to discard warm gloves to lower monofilament down their ice holes, and use those stiff fingers to clean ice off the lines. They seemed impervious to the cold, expertly dipping their lines, adjusting their bobbers and hooking bait.

Babe Winkelman had better watch out. He has an army of pint-sized competition barking at his heels.

But toppling his empire might have to wait until after naptime.