DEVILS LAKE, N.D. — Organizers have determined there’s plenty of ice on Devils Lake, and the largest ice fishing tournament in North Dakota will go on as scheduled.
The 32nd annual Devils Lake Volunteer Fire Department Ice Fishing Tournament will take place 1 to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 30 on Six Mile Bay.
After one of the latest freeze-ups on record, there had been some concern about whether the ice would be thick enough to support the thousands of anglers who fish the tournament. Devils Lake Fire Chief Jim Moe said organizers checked the ice Wednesday afternoon, drilling about 40 holes, and found 14 to 19 inches of good, solid ice.
Last year at this time, Six Mile Bay had 32 inches of ice.
“I think we’re pretty confident we’re going to be able to have it with no problems, so that was a sigh of relief,” Moe said Thursday morning. “We feel with people walking out there, we can do it safely.”
Last weekend’s cold snap might have been a wintry slap in the face to most residents in the region, but it was a godsend for tournament organizers. Moe said they intentionally waited until after the cold snap to check the ice.
“It’s never come down to the wire like this,” he said.
As a precaution, organizers are modifying the tournament boundaries slightly, Moe said, and the 5,000 holes that will be drilled tournament morning will be atop 9 to 20 feet of water.
In previous years, Moe said, the deepest areas within tournament boundaries were more than 30 feet deep, but lake levels are down about 3 feet from last year.
Moe said there wasn’t more than 2 inches of snow on the ice within tournament boundaries, and with the event still more than a week away, conditions should continue to improve.
If organizers hadn’t found adequate ice, Moe said the event would have gone on as scheduled without the fishing tournament since much of the fundraiser revolves around the raffle. This year’s tournament features more than $275,000 in prizes, including a grand prize of a 2016 Toyota Tundra Crew Max 4×4 pickup.
“We would have gone ahead and just held the drawing,” Moe said. “Our type of tournament is a raffle. If it had been a safety issue, things would have went on at the Memorial Building.”
The fishing portion of the event offers prizes for the top five perch, walleyes and pike, but as in previous years, the tournament’s not all about the biggest fish. The angler who weighs in the second-largest pike will win a 2016 Ford F150 XLT extended cab pickup, and a new ATV is the prize for the fourth-largest walleye.
Tickets for the tournament, which cost $25, always are in demand, and the 20,000 available tickets were “pretty hard to come by” as of Thanksgiving, Moe said.
The amount of ice organizers found Wednesday falls well within the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s safety recommendations of 12 to 15 inches, Moe said, but anglers will have to decide for themselves whether they’re comfortable with the conditions.
“You’re going to have some fishermen not comfortable with the thickness of the ice,” Moe said. “That’s something they have to judge on their own. They have to be comfortable, and if they’re not, that’s their choice.”
In central Minnesota, organizers of the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza on Gull Lake last week decided to postpone the event, originally scheduled for Saturday, until Feb. 6 because of inconsistent ice conditions.
More information on the Devils Lake Volunteer Fire Department Ice Fishing Tournament, including an events schedule and a full listing of prizes, is available at dlvfdicefishingtourney.com.