The Last Windrow: Hats off to those who host ice fishing contests

It's not always as easy as it looks, especially when the temperature is 30 below zero

Photo illustration /

I don't know who came up with the idea, but I know I was part of it. We should have given it more thought.

Late January and February are traditional times for community ice fishing contests to take place up here where the nights are long and the sun never shines. We've had several already in my area of Minnesota and more are to come.

These contests draw thousands of folks to the ice-covered lakes in search of a fish and a prize. People who would not normally venture out on a lake in winter attend these events and some even call them fun.

In a weak moment a number of years ago, the nonprofit organization I belonged to came up with the idea of hosting such an ice fishing contest on the lake near my home.

We thought it would be a great way to earn some money for the community and at the same time provide a fun time for residents and visitors alike.


What could be so hard about hosting an event such as a simple ice fishing contest anyway? And so, we set the date early in February around Groundhog Day.

Prizes were secured and plans came together rather well, I thought. Our crew of eager volunteers readily stepped forward to take on the various tasks that would be needed to make our event a success.

All these things were done in the confines of a warm building.

The first cloud on the horizon came in the form of a weather report for our selected Sunday. A week before the event, an arctic cold front was forecast to descend on our area, bringing with it a howling wind and windchills in the 30 below zero range.

Snow was also in that forecast. But, the ice fishing committee plodded on. The contest was like a semitruck rolling downhill without any brakes. It would not be stopped.

I pulled out of my driveway on contest morning and headed to the fishing grounds. I noticed when I first witnessed the lake that I could not see across it.

The northwest wind was howling and snow squalls virtually eliminated sight beyond a hundred yards.

When I arrived at the fishing grounds I saw two committee members trying to set up a wind shelter. The tarp looked like a parachute as it drug them across the snowdrifts.


A friend of mine brought out the cook shack and I didn't recognize him at first because his beard was full of snow and ice. He said he couldn't see me very well because his eyelids had frozen shut.

I was in charge of hooking up the PA system. I had borrowed a mobile system from a guy who told me all I had to do was plug it into the cigarette lighter in my pickup.

My fingers would hardly bend as I tried to get the wires hooked up. I plugged the unit into the cigarette lighter and immediately a puff of smoke came out from under my dashboard.

I later discovered that all the wires under that dashboard had melted. The smell of ozone hung in the air.

Long story short, about 20 fisher-people actually showed up. We sold fewer tickets than we had prizes. The hot dogs came out of the cook shack like Popsicles.

Six perch were caught and everyone who caught one got a trophy. They deserved it by just being there. By the time the contest was over, most of the cars were drifted in place. Even the outhouse froze up.

At our next meeting someone made a motion to do the ice fishing contest again the following year. The motion didn't get a second. Most of the crew was still suffering from chilblains and frostbite.

It was decided that maybe a canoe race on open water would work.


My hat is off to those who hold successful ice fishing tournaments. They deserve a round of applause!

The canoe race went well. It was warmer.

See you next time. Okay?

John Wetrosky
John Wetrosky (2022)

Opinion by John Wetrosky
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