NEW ULM - Every year around this time a unique community of people descends upon Clear Lake in rural New Ulm. The iced-over lake becomes home to a tight knit group of ice anglers.
The number of ice shacks grew exponentially on Sunday during the 27th Annual New Ulm Area Sport Fishermen Ice Fishing Contest. At noon more than 900 people were registered, with expectations that 1,000 would register before the end of the day. The annual event averages 1,000 participants.
While the club and event are a popular, area presence, they had humble beginnings.
Staff photo by Clay Schuldt
Participants in the ice fishing event readied a fishing hole on Sunday at Clear Lake. Portable fish houses provided shelter from the elements.
"It started really small," said Club President Jason Kuester The club began with a few members and originally met in the Schell's tap room. In 1996 the Sport Fishermen purchased the old Flying Dutchmen Club grounds, which was located on the KC road. "We started with nine members and now we are at 200 members," Kuester said.
The purpose of the ice fishing event is to raise funds to help to improve area fishing, Kuester said. "Our biggest thing is all the money made from our club we put back in the community."
The Club has provided funds to help local lakes with stocking fish and community clean-ups.
Another aspect of the event is to promote family fishing. Of the hundreds of people registered many were families with children. Within the first hour of the contest 150 prizes were given to children. The prizes included fishing poles and tackle boxes, which were donated by local businesses.
In order to keep the Sport Fishermen Club running, a future generation of anglers will be needed. The event is already multi-generational. Kuester told a story about a young boy who won his first fishing rod on Sunday. The boy's father had also won his first fishing pole at an earlier contest. "Just seeing that transfer through is huge," Kuester said.
All children registered received a prize, but the adults needed to work a little harder. The grand prizes for the contest included an Aqua-Vu Underwater Camera, Canadian fishing trip for two, Dixon Lake Resort fishing trip for four, a portable fish house and a gas-powered ice auger. Additional cash prizes and trophies were awarded to the biggest fish. The prizes are based on total weight of the fish caught.
The New Ulm Area Sport Fishermen will host a river fishing contest in August.