BRAINERD, Minn. (MCT) - Gull Lake just north of this town might not be exactly halfway between New York and Alaska. But it was close enough to that mark Saturday for Sue Johnson and her brother, Jay.
"We wanted to get together with our family and friends in January in Minnesota, and this is where we decided to do it," said Sue Johnson of New York City. Her brother lives in Juneau, Alaska.
The Johnson's were among nearly 9,000 anglers who gamely withstood below-zero temperatures and 20-degrees-below-zero wind chills recently to compete in the Brainerd Jaycees 19th Ice Fishing Extravaganza on Gull Lake.
The event raises about $250,000 for charities, including Confidence Learning Center near Brainerd, which provides year-round outdoor experiences for people with developmental disabilities.
"I'll put photos of me being here on Facebook, because no one in New York will believe it," Sue Johnson said. "I've never experienced my eyeballs being cold before."
At stake in the three-hour competition were 150 prizes, including a new pickup won by Zachary Bailey of Nisswa, Minn., whose first-place 5.98-pound walleye was hooked just five minutes into the contest. (For a complete list of winners, go online to www.icefishing.org.)
"I was fishing in 45 feet of water, using a red-tailed chub," Bailey said.
He didn't have a gaff to pull his winning fish through the hole. "So I just grabbed it with my hand inside the fish's mouth. There was blood all over," Bailey said.
Volunteers on Friday drilled 21,500 holes in a cordoned-off area of Gull Lake's Hole in the Day Bay.
In addition to Alaska and New York, contestants traveled from as far away as Florida and California.
Though the competition didn't begin until noon, Mike Boelter of East Grand Forks, Minn., was on the ice at 8 a.m.
His early arrival, he figured, would ensure him his choice of holes to fish through.
"My strategy? Fish deep," said Boelter, who was joined on the ice at about 10 a.m. by his brother, Chris, of Breezy Point, Minn.
The two angled in about 60 feet of water, and like many of those on Gull Lake Saturday, they employed a heater to ward off the frigid temperatures.
Blackberry brandy also helped, said Mike Boelter - giving voice to the survival strategy of hundreds, if not thousands, of others on Gull Lake Saturday.
Nearby, also fishing in about 60 feet of water, Anna Rollins and her husband, Chris, both 30, were huddled together, more or less jigging a single ice-laden line.
The thermometer at their Pine River, Minn., home Saturday morning read minus-20, but they weren't dissuaded from joining the throng on Gull Lake.
"Anna bought the tickets for my birthday," Chris said, adding that he owned a pickup, "but could always use another."
Anna almost fulfilled that wish, placing fourth with a 4.28-pound walleye, good for a $250 gift card to a Brainerd-area retailer.
Luckier still were 11-year-old Steven Sumstad of Coon Rapids, whose 0.64-pound walleye was good for 100th place and a new ATV, and Tony Brevig of Wabasso, Minn., who placed last among prize winners - 150th.
He also won an ATV.
His fish? A half-pound perch.
© 2009, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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