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Charity & camaraderie

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Like most of the thousands of folks who will be at Gull Lake’s Hole-in-the-Day Bay on Saturday for the 22nd annual Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza, Shanna Sletten will be here to experience the camaraderie. And the spirit of volunteerism.

It’s why she made the trip from Los Angeles. And she won’t even wet a line.

No, Sletten, originally from Fergus Falls, is here to get footage for a possible documentary on the event for her L.A.-based documentary production company — Open Air Docs.

Although a Minnesotan, Sletten said she never had an interest in fishing while growing up and has never fished through the ice. She was back in Minnesota a couple months ago for an ice fishing expo in the Twin Cities, doing research. She’s here with a small crew that includes Open Air Docs partners Josiah Bultema and Kyle Gilbertson.

“The biggest thing (she learned at the expo) was the camaraderie that comes with ice fishing,” said Sletten, who moved to the L.A. area in 2006 to study film at Biola University. “That was the thing that intrigued me.

“There are 10,000 people on a lake and it’s all volunteer-generated. We want to capture that.”

There should be ample opportunity Saturday. The tournament is regarded as the largest charitable ice fishing tournament in the world and volunteerism has been the anthem since the get-go. Since 1991, event organizers have donated nearly $3 million to Brainerd-area charities, most notably Confidence Learning Center.

The event is organized by the Brainerd Jaycees, who have more than 150 members contributing more than 75,000 hours and $200,000 to the community annually.

“I think I helped out for 15 years,” said Jim Davis, the tournament chairman in 2002, the only other time the tournament was postponed. This year’s event was pushed back from Jan. 21, also because of poor ice conditions on Gull.

Davis, who is 40 and no longer eligible for the Jaycees, meaning he could fish the event for the first time, said he had a prior commitment so won’t fish in this year’s tournament. And even though he’s not an avid ice fisherman, “I’ll definitely be supporting the Brainerd Jaycees at the contest (in the future).”

Ten years after his chairmanship, he still remembers the camaraderie among the volunteers. And the participants.

“There’s a tremendous group of people that work on that project for nothing but to make a difference,” he said. “And those who attend — it’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen.”

Erick Hoglund, Cass County chief deputy, is just relieved that the event is a go.

“They do such good things for the community,” Hoglund said of the Jaycees and the Extravaganza. “A lot of charities depend on those contributions.”

Camp Confidence in particular.

“When you look at the impact the Jaycees and all the anglers have on the camp, the money they donate is a huge portion of our budget,” Bob Slaybaugh, program director at Confidence Learning Center, said after it was announced Jan. 25 that the event was a go. “Without it the camp wouldn’t be able to operate the way it does now. Last year, we had 11,000 camper days. Without this kind of money it would be 6,000 to 7,000. It makes that big of a difference.”

Sletten hopes it makes a difference for Open Air Docs’ cause, too.

According to the website, “In the documentary, we want to use the sport of ice fishing as a way of looking at middle American culture. We are fascinated by the pace of life, and the positive family values that are prevalent in places like Minnesota. The sport of ice fishing embodies these things in a very raw and visually interesting way. We will follow a variety of characters as they prepare for the Extravaganza, and learn what it is about the sport that they love so much.

“And we are fascinated by how odd the Extravaganza really is. What would drive 10,000 people to go outside in below-zero temperatures and try to catch a fish? Is it just because they really want to win the grand prize, a brand new truck, or is there something more going on there? What does it say about family and community, and what can we learn from them?”

If past Extravaganzas are any indication, a lot.

For more information or to donate to the documentary, go to