GULL LAKE—All ‘eyes’ were on the weigh-in line as walleye after walleye came in from all depths of the 2-square mile contest area on Gull Lake’s Hole-in-the-Day Bay on Saturday near Nisswa.
Shortly after the cannon sounded, signaling the start of the 26th annual Brainerd Jaycee’s $150,000 Ice Fishing Contest, anglers began running 1.5- to 3-pound walleyes to center ice. Not just one or two here and there. Hundreds came in.
Before long, a line stretching a couple hundred yards was filled with anglers holding large walleye and tullibee in plastic bags ready to be released back into the icy waters of Gull Lake.
Last year’s event broke a record for most fish caught with over 1,200 fish registered. This year was slightly down to 980 fish registered, but quality surpassed quantity.
For the first time volunteers could remember, all 150 fish on the leader board surpassed 1 pound.
“I don’t think that’s ever happened,” event chairwoman Angie Nelson said.
Zach Johnson, another Jaycees’ member was on standby helping where needed and continuously pointed out more large walleye coming in.
“It’s just unrealistically good,” Johnson said. “You walk down the line and every few steps there’s another nice walleye.”
He recalls most years seeing tullibees under 1 pound leading the board. But this year, the top 10 fish were all over 3 pounds and besides one eelpout, were all walleye. In fact, of the 150 winners only one was a northern pike. And though hundreds of perch came through the line, none were big enough for a spot.
For the first hour every few anglers had nice walleyes in water in hand.
“I tell you—we’ll be fishing this bay all this summer,” Johnson said.
Johnson said his parents were founding members of the ice fishing contest on Gull Lake and he’s been involved since about age 14. This contest was unlike any he could remember.
Mike Peterson, Brainerd, and Tony Swenson, Waconia, were standing in line together, having caught walleyes just seconds from each other. Swenson came in 127th place last year. This year he moved up to eighth place with his 3.67-pound walleye. Peterson claimed sixth with his 3.8-pound walleye.
Both were fishing in around 50 feet of water, jigging a minnow off the bottom. Anglers from both the north and south side of the contest seemed to be consistently catching fish around 50 feet of water.
That’s a stark contrast from the winning fish caught by Dan Volbert of Chaska. His 5.33-pound walleye came off the bottom in 5.8 feet of water. He suggested once 9,000-plus lines drop in the water, fish scatter and can be caught anywhere.
Another theory among anglers was the cold front that was blowing in from the south. As the afternoon progressed, the barometer dropped to 29.75 inches, according to the National Weather Service in Duluth. Dropping below 30 inches typically means good fishing.
A drop in pressure coupled with mild temperatures in the mid 30s made for a comfortable day out on the ice. Big fish on the end of the line was an added bonus.