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Minnesota Ducks Unlimited ice fishing party draws 4,000 people, raises $200,000

GARRISON—Fishing for Ducks Ice Fishing Contest, the largest attended Ducks Unlimited event in the nation, drew more than 4,100 anglers for a successful day of ice fishing on Mille Lacs Lake on Feb. 16.

The event raised more than $200,000 for Ducks Unlimited's wetlands and waterfowl conservation efforts.

Fishing for Ducks began 15 years ago when local Ducks Unlimited volunteers created a unique event to support waterfowl and wetland conservation. The town of Garrison, with a population of less than 200, grows exponentially for the day when participants descend on the lake.

This year's event was supported by more than 200 Ducks Unlimited volunteers and featured numerous raffles and more than $100,000 in prizes. Wood duck houses were given to youth and prizes were awarded for the 100 largest fish caught. Fishing for Ducks includes a pre-event party Friday evening.

Garrison Chapter Ducks Unlimited volunteers spend three days on the lake setting up tents and temporary buildings that acted as a registration area, restaurant and bar, raffle center and warm-up area. Volunteers worked with a local engineering firm to plow a 50-acre outline of the Ducks Unlimited logo which serves as the contest boundaries.

The fishing day began at 5 a.m., when volunteers drilled nearly 9,000 holes for contestants. Participants started showing up at 7 a.m., doors opened at 9 a.m. and fishing was from noon to 3 p.m.

Greg Erickson, Ducks Unlimited volunteer and event chairman, said the event is a fun way to bring together a mix of outdoors enthusiasts to raise money for wetlands conservation.

"The anglers who were there early literally ran through knee-deep snow to pick their spots," Erickson said. "Some are there to fish seriously, others are there to fish for 20 minutes and then socialize."

A giant digital monitor projected the leaderboard throughout the day, as participants mix fishing with eating, talking and playing raffles. The winning fish was a burbot weighing in at 2.96 lbs., caught by Lisa Tetzlaff of Zimmerman. Tetzlaff took home a $20,000 prize for largest fish, and is the first female winner in event history.

Raising funds for wetlands conservation is fitting at an event held at Mille Lacs Lake. Wetland habitats are crucial for the health of lakes in Minnesota, as more wetlands mean better fishing and waterfowling.

The event was presented in partnership with Tito's Handmade Vodka and Clam Outdoors.