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Ice check yields excitement for fishing contest on Gull Lake

Leaders of the Brainerd Jaycees, officers of the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office and members of the media hopped into a convoy of trucks Thursday and rolled onto Gull Lake's Hole-in-the-Day Bay to measure the ice's depth.

Sgt. D.J. Downie, a member of the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office, dips a tape measure into the icy waters of Hole-in-the-Day Bay on Gull Lake. Measurements were to check the ice depth for the upcoming Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch -- Gallery and Video
Sgt. D.J. Downie, a member of the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office, dips a tape measure into the icy waters of Hole-in-the-Day Bay on Gull Lake. Measurements were to check the ice depth for the upcoming Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch -- Gallery and Video

Leaders of the Brainerd Jaycees, officers of the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office and members of the media hopped into a convoy of trucks Thursday and rolled onto Gull Lake's Hole-in-the-Day Bay to measure the ice's depth.

The result? Roughly 18 inches of clear ice, with little to no air pockets or faults, registered at multiple points along the 2-square-mile site. The 28th Annual Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza is-metaphorically and literally-not on thin ice this year. This means the largest charity ice fishing contest has its event permit and is primed for the Jan. 27 event. Contest chairman Shane Meyer said he's more than satisfied with the results.

"That's perfect ice for what we want to do out there. No more, no less than what we need," Meyer said, adding the measurements of the bay's northwest corner, a vulnerable area, were the best he's seen during his decade-long membership with the Jaycees.

Meyer said the event is structured much as it has been for much of its history. Every year, the charity contest raises funds for more than 50 charities across the nation-the biggest recipient being Confidence Learning Center, a outdoor sports camp for developmentally disabled children to take part in activities like hiking, archery or fishing.

Last year, the contest raised $200,000. During its history, the event has garnered more than $3.3 million for philanthropic causes.

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Aside from the main contest for $150,000, ice fishing enthusiasts can partake in a "catch of the day," or by adding a $5 tag to their ticket, anglers can win a $10,000 price package if they catch the largest specimen of a mystery species that will be announced the day prior to the contest. There are also kids' events, including an "ice olympics" planned to start at 11 a.m., as well as raffles and special promotions by sponsors, among other draws.

However, while Meyer expects the fundamental aspects of the contest to remain as they've been for years, there are a number of external factors that may contribute to a spike in incoming traffic to Gull Lake. The number of advance tickets, especially after a spike in sales during November, are already matching last year's clip.

Meyer said the Jaycees hired a public relations firm to spread awareness of the event, but Super Bowl LII looms on the calendar on Feb. 4. The media attention converging on U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis may also be shining a light on the Brainerd lakes area. In a news release, the Jaycees have confirmed that national media outlets, including ABC News, BBC, Vice News Tonight and Sports Illustrated will be attending and covering the event.

All in all, Meyer expects the typical turn-out, about 10,000, will jump to 11,000 or maybe more during Jan. 27's events-a boon for the contest, as well as the charity's beneficiaries.

"We're really hoping for a larger turn-out. Even if it reflected on next year's number, it would be better for everyone in the end if we get the word out and become more visible nationwide," Meyer said. "Eleven thousand would be a great number and a great number compared to the last few years. We've seen a slight incline, but to see a good jump would spectacular because there's more money to give away."

Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl, one of the officers on hand to authorize the event, said the sudden influx of newcomers to the area present challenges-whether it's traffic on the roadways or traffic on the ice itself.

"We encourage people to be patient because there are going to be some boggle-ups, there's going to be road closures, things like that," Dahl said, who added the contest has evolved into a well-established and regulated event. "When people come through here, they know what's going on. We have it marked. We're out in full force with our sheriff's office. For as long as I've been involved with this thing, it just turns out like a machine-it just goes and it flows."

Dahl noted lake ice always has its risks and concerns, but Thursday's measurements are a welcome sign to officers involved-many of whom are fisherman themselves-and they have little worries regarding the event.

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"People want to see it go on. It's sometimes been iffy in the past. Last few years have been good," Dahl said. "We live in God's country, in central Minnesota and a resort area, so we know how to do it right."

Meyer-who added he constantly checks the forecast on an hourly basis-said projections for the weather during the Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza are currently at 20 degrees, with possible light snow the day of the contest.

For photo gallery go to https://goo.gl/1tt7UD .

Related Topics: GULL LAKEBRAINERD
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