By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
LAKE WASHINGTON — Last year’s Big Bobber Ice Fishing Contest on Lake Washington had to be canceled due to warm weather.
But on Saturday it returned with a vengeance, the annual Minnesota State University fundraiser attracting its largest crowd ever.
“This is awesome,” event co-coordinator Lindsey Botker said as he gazed out upon a bayful of anglers hunkered over their ice holes.
She said more than 1,300 tickets were sold for the contest, which annually raises about $25,000 for MSU athlete scholarships.
Although temperatures struggled to reach double digits, the sun was out and winds were light for contestants such as Gayland Hamilton of Kasota.
He was keeping his head warm with a hat fashioned from a dead furry animal, paws included, as he stood sentry over his line.
Hamilton has a fish house elsewhere on the lake. Nothing fancy, he said, but it keeps him and his buddies warm.
As he talked he kept his eyes on the tiny screen of his battery-powered fish finder.
“See that green mark,” he said. “That’s a fish!”
Nearby, Brian Bell stood over a hole but was letting his friends do the actual fishing.
Bell, an MSU assistant football coach, is a young black guy from southeast Texas whose acclimation to Minnesota ice fishing has come in fits and starts — beginning with a film he saw years ago.
“I saw that movie ‘Grumpy Old Men’ and I thought, that’s fake. There’s no way they can be fishing on ice, on a lake.”
But when he was recruited by Bemidji State to play football, a buddy drove him out onto an icy lake for a prankish baptism of fire.
“He said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to crack your window so in case we go under you’ll have a way to get out.’ He had me going, man.”
Botker said more than 60 fish were caught during the three-hour contest, which was won by Don Mehlhop of Green Isle, who pulled in a 6.6-pound northern pike.