We didn’t know quite what to think as we flew off to Minnesota last January. All the winter clothes we owned were in the suitcase, but nothing prepared us for this northern winter vacation.
It was cold. Really cold. Like 20-degrees-below-zero cold. With wind chill. But the fire in the lobby of the Grand View Lodge, in Nisswa, Minn., welcomed us.
Dark wooden beams, velvety red carpets and chenille pillows waited as we parked the car and made our way, carefully, through the snow and into our fabulous cottage. In a few minutes, our fireplace was roaring – firewood comes standard with the room – and soon we were gazing at six-foot snow drifts and the iced-over Gull Lake, where tomorrow, 15,000 ice fishers would vie for $150,000 in prizes.
The Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza at Gull Lake may be a long way from Houston but the same down-to-earth, can-do, let’s-have-fun attitude is all around. Hey, this is a fantastic event, filled with all the same Texas spirit found at our barbecues and tailgating. I dare, make that double dare, all you proud anglers, ropers, hunters and chili cookers to load ‘er up and make your way to Brainerd on Jan. 23, 2010. From 12 noon until 3 p.m., on Gull Lake at Hole-in-the-Day, you will be astonished at what you find. The Brainerd Jaycees have been hosting the event since 1990 and there isn’t a courageous Texan who wouldn’t enjoy it. The lake is drilled the day before with more than 21,500 holes. On tournament day, fishers line the lake ready to run to their favorite spot, drop their lines in and come up with a walleye. As soon as a fish is on the ice, the angler bags it and literally runs to the weigh-in station as the fish must be alive to be a contender. In 2008, the Jaycees raised $228,000 and distributed more than $190,000 in prizes. Not bad for three hours! In two decades, more than $2 million has been raised with 67 charities benefitting. There are more than 150 prizes, ranging from first fish to biggest fish. And get this, no windbreaks or canvas allowed. All contestants must be fully visible at all times – unless there’s a snow storm, of course!
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” one man told me. “I think my eyelids have frozen.” Yes, it was cold on the ice but with boots, coats, face masks, and hand and feet warmers, it was tolerable. In fact, it was a mini-competition in endurance.
As I surveyed the scene, I could imagine the same crowd back at any cook-off in Texas. Tents are pitched with food and beverages inside. There are vendor stands, music blaring and lots of wares being sold – although in Texas I haven’t seen many fur hat stands or fish jerky vendors. There are plenty of portable toilets, too – but I have to admit, we weren’t that brave! Brilliant blue skies, concession tents, a central stage and live radio broadcasting are part of the lively scene accented with parkas and ski mobiles of every color.
Last January, the first place winner was Zachary Bailey of Nisswa who submitted a 5.98-pound walleye after fishing just five minutes. He won a brand new pickup truck! The Jaycees also offer a $10 random prize drawing. Contestants, I read in the local paper, come from as far away as Florida and California. What, no Texans? Must be we just haven’t heard of it yet. Well, consider yourself told and challenged. You’ll be competing with only a few thousand or so competitors, you’ll have the memory of a lifetime and definitely will have something to brag about to all those cook-off participants who think creating award-winning sauces makes a ‘real’ man.
The ice fishing festival, however, is not the only reason to come to Nisswa. The stately and historic Grand View Lodge is reason enough to visit this area. Primarily a summer (make that warm) destination, the Grand View in winter will fill any Texan’s dream of winter white. A sprawling, elegant resort, the Grand View offers a full array of amenities. Fire watching and snow watching are great, but so is the cross country skiing, ice skating, snow tubing, downhill skiing, bonfires, horse-drawn wagon rides, geocaching, scavenger hunts, an indoor pool and water slide, snowshoeing and, get this Texas linksters – snow golf – are all offered. There are special events and packages devoted to every interest from wine to harvest beer brews, scrap booking, chocolate, romance, girlfriend getaways, hockey, Minnesota authors, cooking classes and holiday celebrations.
The Grand View dates to 1919. A national designated historic landmark, it began as a real estate promotion of M.V. Baker, who sold lake front property for $10 a foot. Baker cut Norway pine trees on site to build the lodge. In 1937, he sold the lodge and acreage for $85,000 to ‘Brownie” Cote, the owner of nearby Camp Lake Hubert for Girls and Camp Lincoln on Lake Hubert for Boys. The Cote family still owns the property and makes it a point to hire the most friendly, accommodating and hospitable staff possible. Guests can stay in the lodge or buy homes, cabins or town homes – all with full privileges at the Lodge.
The Lodge has everything for a perfect winter vacation – roaring fireplaces, delicious hot chocolate, the Northwoods Pub, a friendly hotel bar with lots of locals, a great family-style, hearty breakfast each day and, to treat yourself for being so brave outdoors, the Glacial Waters Spa. Ah. The best, and I mean best, massage I’ve ever had was here. My masseuse, Jason, could command top dollar in major cities. Don’t miss dinner at the historic Sherwood Forest restaurant, an elegant and cozy steak house with excellent food situated in a 1920s timber lodge. This lovely dinner was the perfect way to end our wintry Minnesota adventure.
The Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza 20th anniversary is this year – and it should be more fun than ever. Tickets are $35 now through Dec. 31 and $45 through the contest day – tickets may be purchased that day as well. To get the latest information and registration forms, go to www.icefishing.org. Grand View Lodge may be reached by calling 866-801-2951 toll free or visiting their enticing (those photos are special) Web site at www.grandviewlodge.com.