When about 10,000 anglers trudge onto Gull Lake next Saturday near Brainerd for the world’s largest ice-fishing contest and a chance to win more than $150,000 in prizes, they’ll immediately face a key decision:
Fish shallow or fish deep?
“If you want to catch a big fish and win the tournament, your odds are better in deeper water — the history of our catches have proved that,’’ said Bob Slaybaugh, 47, who has been a volunteer with the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza for its entire 24-year history.
“But if you just want to catch a fish, Gull is loaded with small walleyes 13-14 inches, and those will win a contest prize,’’ he said. “They are typically hanging out in the weed edge or inside the weeds from 18 to 22 feet deep.’’
Two years ago, Luke Botzek, 30, of Foley, Minn., chose to fish deep.
It was a smart move.
He landed a 6.4-pound walleye, a beauty that won him the top prize — a new four-wheel drive pickup. It was his first time fishing the event, and he caught the monster in 60 feet of water using a minnow.
“A lot of it, honestly, was perseverance and luck,’’ Botzek said last week. He used a borrowed fishing rod and had no electronic fish-finding equipment.
“My buddies marked fish about eight feet off the bottom with their Vexilar, so I reeled up about that far,’’ Botzek said.
“I felt a tug and set the hook hard. I thought I had a tullibee.’’
Instead he had a lunker — and a new truck.
“It was an awesome experience,’’ he said.
If you’ve got your eye on that new pickup, know that it generally will take a fish as big as Botzek’s to win top prize.
“On a good year, with consistent weather, it’s typically going to be a six- to eight-pound walleye that will win it,’’ Slaybaugh said. “Hole in the Day Bay [where the contest is held] has good structure and is real conducive to big walleyes. Typically, the largest ones come from 40 to 55 feet.’’
Of the 23 contests held since 1991, walleyes have won 12 times, northerns and burbot, also called eelpout, have each won five times and a 2.2-pound tullibee won in 2006.
Last year, Bror Linnerooth, 23, of Brainerd, won the contest with a 4.4-pound northern he caught in 35 feet of water with a fathead minnow impaled on a red hook.
“I was fishing for whatever would bite,’’ said Linnerooth. “I had six-pound test line with no leader, so I was lucky he didn’t break my line.’’