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Boy, 13, Wins World's Largest Ice-Fishing Tournament with Huge Walleye

Minnesota youth takes the top prize at the 12,000-angler event—a new Ford pickup truck.

Boy, 13, Wins World's Largest Ice-Fishing Tournament with Huge Walleye

At 13 years of age, Zac Padrnos of Hutchinson, Minn., caught a hefty 9.45-pound walleye that was good enough to take top honors at this year's Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza.

In a world where bad news seems to dominate news headlines day in and day out, the result of this year's 33rd annual Brainerd, Minn., Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza was nothing short of heartwarming. Hailing from Hutchinson, Minn., 13-year-old Zac Padrnos wrangled a 9.45-pound walleye to top the near 12,000-angler field and claim the top prize.

breaking ice at Brainerd extravaganza 
Nearly 12,000 anglers gather on Gull Lake to compete for nearly $275,000 in prizes and raffles at the 33rd annual Brainerd (Minn.) Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza. With an impressive total of 14,300 holes drilled the night before, the contestants need to break the ice with hand tools before they can fish.
 

The Extravaganza, held on renowned Gull Lake near Nisswa on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, is considered to be the largest ice-fishing tournament in the world. Anglers from all over the country, the state of Minnesota and the Brainerd/Baxter area piled onto 15 inches of ice for a shot at a Ford or GMC pickup-truck grand prize, included in a cut of nearly $275,000 in prizes.

"This is the second time I've fished this event," the young Padrnos said. "I'm here with my dad, grandpa and my uncle. We've been having a great time together—it's a lot of fun to get together and go ice fishing, but today was especially fun."

Padrnos was all smiles as he joined staff and hosts on the big stage at Center Ice to talk about his day. Local radio-show personalities and the Brainerd Ice Fishing Extravaganza chairman Tad Johnson asked Zac which truck he was planning on selecting, he quickly responded: "I'll go with the Ford."

"His great grandpa drove a Ford, and both grandfathers on either side drive Fords, as does his uncle—and so do I. It's certainly a part of our family tradition in the outdoors, a huge part," Zac's father Eric said. "Although he'd love to keep the truck, after some discussion we decided to sell the truck and keep the money for his future. Zac is on the school trap team and plans to buy a nice shotgun and he wants to save the rest for either his first vehicle in a few years, school tuition, or both."

Last year, Padrnos competed for the first time, but didn't catch a single fish, which is generally the case for over 80 percent of the field on an annual basis.

"I caught a whitefish earlier in the day that might have had me in the money to begin with," he said. "But when that big walleye came through the hole, I knew it was a special fish—definitely one that would help me finish high in the rankings."

Padrnos' winning walleye fell victim to a pink and white tungsten jig dressed with a wax worm, a classic northern ice-fishing rig.

"We were fishing in 55 feet of water when the walleye appeared on my electronics at 30 feet," he said. "I cranked up my bait to face level with the fish, and he ate it. The fish was temporarily tangled up and my uncle reached into the water to work it free and pull it through the hole. People all around us were cheering and clapping, and it was an exciting moment for sure."

For Zac and his accompanying family and friends, fishing the Extravaganza is a family tradition.

"Zac's grandfather Greg Holtz, his uncle Chris Holtz and his late great grandfather Alvin Holtz fished the first contest 33 years ago," Eric Padrnos said. "Over the years, our group has ebbed and flowed with as few as three anglers and as many as 12—there has only been two years where someone from our crew wasn’t able to attend. It’s something we look forward to every winter.”

Over the years, the group has made it into the payouts a few times, with the highest place being 12th place.

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Padrnos and Holtz famly together after final weigh-in 
The outdoor family tradition runs deep with this crew. From left: Eric Padrnos (Father), Zac Padrnos, Greg Holtz (Grandfather) and Chris Holtz (Uncle).
 

"Zac and I spend over 300 hours a year fishing together, often with additional family members," Eric Padrnos said. "We try to get out at least once or twice a week, he’s an avid fisherman with a dozen walleyes exceeding the 26-inch mark—this one is his new personal best. That fish was a team effort for sure, a family friend found the spot, his uncle Chris grabbed the fish, it was great. Once we realized how big it was, we all started shaking, hugging and cheering—we’ve spent a lot of time at other tournaments over the years and never expected to catch one like that."

There were three generations of lifetime ice anglers on the ice that day representing a tradition that shows no slowing. What a great story about family tradition, fishing and the Great Outdoors.

Read More About Zac’s Catch on In-Fisherman




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