By Doug Smith
A flurry of activity amid 1,000 or so ice-fishing houses scattered across Minnesota's Lake Minnewaska indicated something was happening just offshore from the tidy burg of Glenwood (population 2,500). A closer look revealed 800 Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, parents, and leaders gathering for the 37th annual Glenwood Scout Fishing Derby, a two-day event that has become a local tradition.
With troop flags fluttering, gas-powered ice augers buzzing, and the scent of roasting bratwurst and burgers wafting in the brisk air, the derby got under way. Equipped with stubby ice-fishing rods and oodles of minnows, Scouts from across Minnesota and as far away as North Dakota tested their skill and luck.
"The fish are biting!" shouted announcer Jim McMahon through a public-address system at the fish weigh-in and prize-giveaway trailer. "We've got about 40 perch caught so far. Every fish caught that is more than four inches long could win a prize."
Eventually nearly 400 fish would be hooked, but the derby also puts smiles on those who get skunked. Local merchants and service clubs give away hundreds of prizes. "The door prizes keep the interest up, especially among the younger Scouts," said Greg Noland, a derby organizer. "When they're not catching fish, we're giving out prizes."
"Once they start calling door prizes, don't stand in the way. You'll get run over," said Dean Peterson, a leader with Troop 491, Starbuck, Minn.
Peterson handed a small rod and jig baited with a minnow to 7-year-old Carl Wallin, of Lowry, Minn., who was seated on a lawn chair in front of a hole bored in two feet of ice. "Keep your pole right about there and move it around a little to get the fish's attention," he advised the first-time angler.
"The derby is fantastic. The kids really look forward to it," said Troop 491 Scoutmaster Jon Boutain in noting that the troop has attended the event for more than a dozen years. After an hour, his crew of more than a dozen Scouts remained enthusiastic, even though they had yet to hook a fish.
Ice fishing is the derby's main attraction, but the event offers much more.
Scouts enjoy swimming in the local high school pool, "camping" overnight on the floors of local schools, watching a movie, feasting on spaghetti at the Lutheran church, devouring pancakes at the American Legion Club, and meeting other Scouts. Glenwood residents who miss the commotion on the ice can't miss seeing many of the Scouts on Sunday, when they dress in their uniforms and attend church.
"It's definitely more than an ice-fishing tournament," said Randy Erickson, Scoutmaster of Troop 659 of Lake Park-Audubon, Minn., who brought nine Scouts, a 12-foot-by-12-foot canvas tent, and a trailer loaded with food.
"The kids come here to have a good time. And they eat all the time," said Erickson, who attended the first-ever derby as a Scout. The troop's on-the-ice menu included hot dogs, burgers, bratwurst, potatoes, beans, chips, hot chocolate, and more.
For Glenwood residents, the fishing derby is a community event fueled by volunteers and generous contributors that injects some pizzazz into the middle of a long winter.
"The whole community pitches in," said Jim Stradtman, 68, a retired pharmacist and longtime contest organizer who has been involved in Scouting for 50 years. "We started it for the kids. It's just a fun thing for them. And it gets families out doing something together."
The first derby was held in 1963. It was the brainchild of Glenwood Cubmaster Adolph Olson, who was concerned that too many fathers in the pack sat inside on winter weekends watching football rather than doing something with their sons.
Boy Scouts became involved the next year, and 5,000 to 6,000 Scouts attended the derby in its early years. Organizers called it the biggest Scout fishing derby in the world.
"Then it slacked off to 300 or 400 participants," said Stradtman. "But the last few years, it's picked up again." Girl Scouts have joined in and the event has become a family affair. Organizers tallied more than 1,100 participants for the 1999 event.
The derby has only been canceled a few times in 37 years, for unsafe ice in warmer weather or safety concerns about bitterly cold temperatures.
The weather for the 37th derby was ideal: temperatures in the mid-20s with light wind under hazy skies.
Jon Anderson, 15, and Dominic Schmidt, 13, from Troop 467, Morris, Minn., watched their lines while they cooked homemade bear meat sausage for lunch over a small camp stove.
Jon was one of several anglers who used an electronic depth-findera sonar device that told him he was fishing in 15 feet of water and that his jig, baited with a wax worm, was a foot off the bottom. Despite the high-tech gear, he hadn't had a bite all day. But he remained unfazed.
"I like being out here with all the Scouts, the camaraderie and everything," said Jon, a diehard angler. "I fish every weekend. I like being outside."
The previous year Dominic had the derby's biggest catch, a 7.5-pound northern pike. But noise from trucks, power augers, and Scouts stomping on the ice were a problem this year.
"The fish hear the noise and go where it's quieter," Jon said.
About the time the two Scouts were wrapping their hands around bear sausage sandwiches, Lake Park's Bryan Johnson, 14, of Troop 659, had his hands full a few hundred yards away.
His tipupa device that trips a small flag when a fish hits baitsignaled a fish was on, and up through the icy water came a glistening, chunky walleye, Minnesota's state fish, treasured for its fine eating.
Bryan scampered across the snow to the weigh-in station, where his walleye tipped the scales at 3.5 pounds. A dandy by any standard, the catch earned Bryan a $100 U.S. Savings Bond.
As his fellow Scouts congratulated Bryan, his grin summed up the fun and satisfaction the derby provides all participants, regardless of size or quantity of fish they catch.
Doug Smith is an outdoors reporter for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. [This year's Glenwood Scout Fishing Derby is Feb. 3-4. Call (320) 634-3203 for information.]
Ice Fishing Warms Up To Technology
In many northern states, ice fishing is a fast-growing activity popular among men, women, and children alike. Much of its growth is due to technological advances that make ice fishing more comfortable, fun, and even more productive than it used to be.
Safety Advice for Fishing on Ice
Ice fishing is generally very safe, but anyone venturing onto ice must always use caution. Never assume the ice is safe without checking depths yourself or with owners of local bait shops, resorts, or other anglers.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials say four inches of ice is the minimal thickness to support a person. Five to six inches will support a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle. More than 12 inches is needed for cars and light trucks.
All these thicknesses are for clear, hard ice, not cloudy ice softened by warm temperatures. Remember, ice can be safe on one part of a lake, but treacherous elsewhere on the same lake. Don't venture onto unfamiliar ice.
Additional safety tips:
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