Story and Photos By Lindy Ice Correspondent Dan Johnson

A never-say-die spirit and last-minute tactical adjustment helped Steven Baumgartner of Owatonna, Minnesota, pull off a stunning victory against thousands of anglers competing in the Brainerd Jaycees 25th Annual $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza Jan. 24th on Gull Lake’s Hole-in-the-Day Bay.

“I had been fishing in 26 feet of water, but with about 15 minutes left moved to shallower water,” he reported, explaining that a lack of fishing pressure in the shallows, coupled with sun-blocking cloud cover, encouraged him to make the fateful move.
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(LEFT - A photo from the media helicopter shows the multitude of anglers competing in the 25th Annual event.)


Baumgartner, who said he’s fished the charitable event more than 10 seasons without weighing a fish, knew time was not on his side as the final minutes of the three-hour competition ticked away.

Anthony Welch of St. Paul had topped the leaderboard with a 3.67-pound walleye virtually the entire event, and chances were slim that anyone would topple his husky ’eye as time ran out. In fact, many anglers were already heading for the gates as Baumgartner threaded a shiner minnow onto a pink hook rigged with a glow bead and slipped it into the icy water. But with nearly $200,000 in prizes up for grabs—including a brand-new Ford or GMC truck—he wasn’t about to give up.
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(RIGHT - A walleye led the pack for the majority of the tournament before Baumgartner's last-chance pike took over the top spot.)


As Baumgartner gently moved the minnow up and down, he was jolted by the strike of a hungry northern pike that he later recalled, “hit like a ton of bricks.” As the girthy pike slid onto the ice, Baumgartner hoped the fish might propel him into first place. But to find out, he he’d have to make it to the weigh-in area before it was too late. Cheered on by thousands of fellow competitors, he raced for the scale and registered his catch just in time.

Inside the weigh tent, officials put the pike’s weight at a whopping 6.73 pounds, and within minutes Baumgartner was whisked onstage to accept top honors in front of a roaring crowd. First prize was his choice of a brand-new Ford or GMC truck from Mills Auto Group, and Baumgartner diplomatically opted for the GMC. “Ford makes the best truck in America, but I think GMCs ride a little nicer,” he grinned.
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(LEFT - Michele Sullivan of Coon Rapids won the Lindy Big Fish Bounty with a 1.64-pound walleye.)


Welch fell to second, while Brandon Freudenrich placed third with a 2.88-pound walleye. Prizes were awarded out to 150th place, including an Arctic Cat Prowler 550 XT, Ice Castle wheelhouse and Lindy Shopping Spree.

A proud sponsor of the event, Lindy also offered a Lindy Big Fish Bounty worth $3,000 in cash if the 25th-place finisher had a Lindy Perch Talker in their possession. And when Michele Sullivan of Coon Rapids, Minnesota, took the stage to accept 25th place for her 1.64-pound walleye, she proudly displayed the lucky lure for all the world to see.

Thanks to balmy temperatures topping 30 degrees, the 25th anniversary of the Brainerd Jaycee’s event drew an incredible crowd organizers expect will surpass the record of 13,000 contestants, though official numbers were not available at press time. The event has raised more than $3 million for local charities in the past quarter century, and this year’s proceeds are expected to set a record as well.  

For additional details and final standings, visit http://icefishing.org/leaderboard/index.htm.