By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN Still going strong in its 67th year, the Howard Lake fishing derby promises to be a fun one again this year Saturday, Feb. 9.
Following two years of less-than-favorable ice conditions, the ice has formed strong, clear, and thick on Howard Lake this year, and is sure to draw a crowd for the popular contest.
“The ice is real good, it seems to be the same all over the lake; and safe trucks are driving on it,” said Howard Lake Sportsmen’s Club President Denny Decker, noting the ice is 18 inches thick now, and may be about 20 inches by the time of the contest.
The fishing derby is the main fundraiser for the sportsmen’s club, which raffles a fishhouse for the event.
A portable fishhouse and wildlife prints will also be raffled the day of the derby.
As of Wednesday, 2,600 raffle tickets had been sold, and the club hopes to sell about 6,000.
“It seems to be going real well, thanks to Joe’s Sport Shop,” Decker said, noting tickets can be purchased there, as well as Howard Lake Municipal Liquor Store, or The Country Store. They will also be available the day of the derby.
The day will begin at 10 a.m. with The Country Store offering free Heat Factory hand warmers, hot cocoa, coffee, and cookies until noon.
People can also sign up for door prizes, which will be drawn at 11:30 a.m. (must be present to win).
The fishing contest begins at 1 p.m. and continues until 3 p.m.
Prizes will be awarded for biggest fish, and other drawings will take place following the ever-popular auger and ice chiseling contests.
Last year, Christine Bobrowske decided to join her brothers, Steve and Tom, in the chiseling contest, but did not prevail.
The brothers have been a mainstay in the contest for more than a decade, and usually take turns winning.
If he’s around, Bobby Gruenhagen also participates in the ice chiseling contest.
Decker noted that ice chiseling is about the hardest a man will work for the three to four minutes it takes to get through the ice.
Despite that, there is usually at least one first-timer who will give it a go, he said, adding that he has an extra chisel available for anyone who wants to try.
Last year, Dan Zachmann and Dave Oestreich, two more regulars at the fishing derby, won the manual, electric, and power auger contests.
“I’ve heard there are some guys who have their souped-up augers ready to go,” Decker said, noting the augers are worked on throughout the year.
During the contest, volunteers Terry and LaNette Thorson and Wendy Mapes draw names for the numerous prizes given away before the big raffle.
Eight to 10 others help with sign-up and weigh-in, Decker said.
Winning for biggest fish last year were Bryan Guimond, with a 6-pound, 6-ounce northern; Dan Solezar, with a 4-pound, 4-ounce bass; Brian Skluzacek, with a 9-ounce crappie; and Buck Utne, with a 4-ounce sunfish.
Charlie Bush is sure to be present with his lunch wagon, offering homemade hot chocolate, coffee, and hot dogs to warm up and snack on during the contest.
It remains to be seen whether Gordon Shrode will continue his streak of winning the oldest person on the ice contest.