This winter has created subpar lake ice conditions in the Brainerd lakes that may have the thousands of people who attend the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza wondering about the status of this year’s event.

The Brainerd Jaycees event — billed as the largest charitable fishing contest in the world — is typically scheduled the third or fourth Saturday of January on Hole-in-the-Day Bay on Gull Lake, about 10 miles north of Brainerd off Highway 371. The contest, going on its 30th year, is dependent on the amount of ice on the lake and a permit is required by the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office in order for it to occur. This year is no different and the contest is set Jan. 25 — as long as there is enough ice.

“We are moving forward as usual,” Brainerd Jaycees ice fishing contest chairperson Jeff Baillif said Monday, Jan. 6, in a telephone interview about this year’s contest. “There has been a lot of chatter with the ice conditions. The best thing we have going for us is Gull Lake was not froze over when we got that big Thanksgiving storm. … A lot of lakes in the area that were frozen got that snow and it pretty much wrecked them. Gull Lake didn’t take that hit.”

Baillif said Gull Lake has good quality ice, but it is not thick enough yet to host the annual contest if it were scheduled this week.

“The forecast is looking good and there is hardly any snow on the lake,” Baillif said, as temperatures this week are expected to dip below zero. “The forecast is looking good right now but we are in that gray area ... but with the amount of ice we have right now there is a very, very good chance for us to have this contest on the 25th.

“At the end of the day, it is up to the sheriff’s office to decide. We’ve been working with them and we will keep monitoring the ice. I can’t guarantee anything at this point, as it all depends on Mother Nature does. We’re crossing our fingers that we will have enough ice for the contest.”

Frozen slush and ice ruts marked the ice near shore from the public access Monday, Jan. 6, on Hole-in the-Day Bay on Gull Lake in Nisswa. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Frozen slush and ice ruts marked the ice near shore from the public access Monday, Jan. 6, on Hole-in the-Day Bay on Gull Lake in Nisswa. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Crow Wing County Sheriff Scott Goddard and his team will determine whether the contest will take place. The sheriff’s office along with Jaycees members go out each year prior to the event to conduct an ice check within the 250 acres of the contest area. Last year there was a good, solid 16 inches of ice and a permit was granted.

Goddard said it is always a wait to see what the weather will do when determining whether a permit will be granted to the Jaycees for the event.

“Safety is our No. 1 concern,” Goddard said. “It seems like some years it is an easy decision and other times it comes down to the wire before a decision is made.

“This year, definitely is a weird year. I was expecting an overabundance of ice in the beginning, but after deer hunting season it warmed up and we had an ice storm.”

The last time the ice fishing contest was postponed to a later date because of ice conditions was in 2016.

Goddard said this year anglers have been responsible and there have not been any ice rescues of people fishing on the lake and becoming stranded like there have been on Red Lake. Goddard also noted there are not a lot of permanent fish houses on the lakes in the county, just portable shelters.

“People realize the ice conditions are not good and they’re waiting for good ice,” Goddard said. “Now we are just waiting and hoping for some colder temperatures to make good ice.”

Goddard said the sheriff’s office’s goal is to have about 16 inches of ice, and the more the better. The sheriff’s office also looks at other factors to make sure the location will be safe for the contest, such as the road access on and off the lake.

Each year, the fishing contest typically kicks off at noon and winners are announced at 3:30 p.m. The fishing contest began in 1991 with 5,500 anglers competing for $100,000 in prizes and it has since almost doubled the number of people who attend and prizes are worth more than $200,000, according to event coordinators.

All fish species and sizes are eligible to win the overall contest. Prizes are awarded to the top 150 weights of fish, as well as other random prizes totaling nearly $40,000.

All proceeds from the volunteer-driven Extravaganza go to about 45 area charities, primarily the Confidence Learning Center, which provides outdoor activities for people with developmental and physical disabilities. Since the event began, it has raised $3.3 million for local charities.

For more information on the contest, go to icefishing.org.

“Let’s hope Mother Nature will be good to us,” Baillif said.