10,000 anglers ready to drop a line in Gull Lake

The "world's largest charitable ice fishing tournament" got the all-clear after the ice check revealed 15 inches of ice in the bay

Ice Fishing Extravaganza chair co-chair.JPG
Tad Johnson, left, Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza chair; Brad Thesing, recreation sergeant with the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office; and Katherine Thoennes, extravaganza co-chair, pose near the 15-inch hole drilled in the Gull Lake ice Saturday morning, Jan. 21, 2023.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

NISSWA — With ice measured at 15 inches, the 33rd annual Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza will take place from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, on Hole-in-the-Day Bay on Gull Lake.

The event will see thousands of anglers from across the state — and usually some from other states — come to the area to drop a line and possibly win a prize.

“It’s billed as the world's largest charitable ice fishing tournament … and it is 100% run by volunteers,” event chair Tad Johnson said. “There is not a single paid person on the entire team of Jaycees or the committee that put it together.

"We recruit volunteers from around the area to help us man all of the entry points and the buses and the ticket tent," he said. "It's about 300 volunteers that help us put it on."

The Jaycees expect to have about 10,000 anglers come to Hole-in-the-Day Bay, with 20,000 holes to be drilled in the ice the night before.


“We like to say it’s about the easiest tournament to fish,” Johnson said. “You drive to Brainerd, you park at Brainerd International Raceway and we shuttlebus you to the access point, then you just walk right onto the site. Really, all an angler needs to bring is a rod and they can participate.”

Roughly $200,000 in prizes are given out with this tournament. The top prize is the winner’s choice of a new Ford or GMC truck, courtesy of Mills Auto Group. Other prizes include an Ice Castle fish house and five different ATVs.

“It is just a stacked prize list,” Johnson said. “To make it fun, we scatter the prizes. The top fish gets the choice of a pickup, but the 100th-largest fish gets an Ice Castle. The 150th-largest fish — which could be a half-pound perch — walks away with a Polaris 450 (ATV). It adds to the fun to know that no matter what you catch, you have a chance at winning something really cool.”

Really, all an angler needs to bring is a rod and they can participate.
Tad Johnson, Event Chair

Proceeds from the tournament go to various local charities, but the largest beneficiary is the Confidence Learning Center, an outdoor facility for adults with disabilities.

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A hole drilled in the ice on the edge of the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza contest site on Gull Lake's Hole-in-the-Day Bay measured 15 inches Saturday morning, Jan. 21, 2023.
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

The Jaycees received the go-ahead to host the tournament from the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department after an official ice check Saturday, Jan. 21, registered 15 inches of ice in the bay. The ice check was delayed by three days, with the Jaycees and sheriff’s office hoping a few extra days of colder temperatures would make more ice.

Not that the amount of ice was much of a concern for participants, as the Jaycees reported strong ticket sales even before the ice check.

“Ticket sales are great,” Johnson said. “We have had a really good rebound. With the strong early ice we got, people are optimistic. People are excited to come out, and everything is looking really good.”

"No matter what you catch, you have a chance at winning something really cool."
Tad Johnson, Event Chair

Contest tickets, along with raffle tickets and Catch of the Day tickets, can be purchased at Fleet Farm and local Brainerd area outlets as well as on


Johnson reminds participants that no glass bottles will be allowed on the ice, and bait must be below 4 inches in length. The high for Saturday is forecast at 1 degree, so the Jaycees recommend participants bring their own chisel to keep their ice hole clear.

Dan Determan, sports writer/staff writer, may be reached at 218-855-5879 or . Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at .

Dan Determan has been a reporter for the Echo Journal since 2014, primarily covering sports at Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus
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