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Anglers enjoy sun, warm temps at 14th annual fishing derby

Anglers were treated to a beautiful day on the ice. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

More than 1,700 anglers converged on Fish Hook Lake Saturday for an afternoon of suntans and sunfish.

The 14th annual Park Rapids American Legion Community Fishing Contest yielded 483 weighed fish, thousands more that never tipped the scales, and a perfect day on the ice. The haul was 197 fish more than were caught in 2011, tourney statisticians said. Perch and rock bass were the most caught species.

"This is the most fish I've seen in 15 years," said volunteer Russ Carmichael, trying to manage the long line to the scales.

The warm day, with a mid-30 temperature and bright sun, made the fish restless and hungry. The first weigh-in came one minute into the tournament. At times the line to weigh fish got so long, anglers went back to their ice holes, where the wait was considerably less.

"I'm catching a bluegill every four seconds," groused one angler, hauling up a tiny specimen.

But large fish were biting, too. A 4.58 pound northern was the largest lunker reeled in.

The event is staffed by dozens of volunteers who direct traffic and parking, cook, serve, drive buses, weigh fish and haul garbage.

"I try to make it every year," said angler David Dahring of Park Rapids. "It's awesome."

"I won a game camera last year," said Mike Hauer of New Prague. "They run a nice tournament here, one of the best in the country. It's one of the nicest around."

Toward the end of the tournament, a minnow-eating contest is always a big draw with young and old.

"Eeeeuuuuuwww they look like goldfish!" screamed the 12 and under crowd, which was offered the first bite. Contestants were not allowed to swallow them whole. They had to chew the bait.

"You said they tasted good!" said one kid accusatorily at his buddy who promised him "they taste like chicken."

Olivia Ulvin, 10, blanched at eating her minnow. "It's got eyes!" she said in disgust.

Authorities reported no incidents or accidents.

"We've never hauled anybody out of here," said one ambulance attendant.

Almost 3,400 raffle and derby tickets were sold at $40 apiece for a chance at the "big ticket" items. A complete list of winners is being posted on the Enterprise website.

Richard Schleicher of Park Rapids learned he won a 2012 F-150 Supercab truck, the grand prize.

"Somebody called me from California," he said Monday. "Said I'd won a truck."

Meanwhile word of his win passed through town like lightning and back to the ticket buyer.

"I went down to the Legion," he said, and got his first look at the vehicle.

But the honest man admitted he'd bought the ticket for his son-in-law, Chuck Collins, so he'd be turning the keys over to him as soon as Collins returned from Las Vegas.

"It's his," Schleicher said. "I had a ticket of my own."

In another act of scruples, Rod George informed tourney officials the prize for the biggest rock bass was not his. He'd caught a largemouth black bass, not a rock bass, he corrected officials.

He gave up his chance to win a four-wheeler.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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