January 29, 2023
Nearly 12,000 dedicated ice anglers competed at the 33rd annual Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza on renowned Gull Lake near Nisswa, Minnesota, on Saturday, January 28th, 2023. Considered to be the largest ice fishing tournament in the world, anglers from all over the country, the state of Minnesota and the Brainerd/Baxter area piled onto 15 inches of ice for a shot at a Ford or GMC pickup-truck grand prize, included in a cut of nearly $275,000 in prizes.
In a world where bad news seems to dominate headlines day in and day out, the result of this year’s frigid Extravaganza was nothing short of heartwarming. Hailing from Hutchinson, Minnesota, 13-year-old Zac Padrnos wrangled a 9.45-pound walleye to top the near 12,000 angler field and claim the top prize.
“This is the second time I’ve fished this event,” the young Padrnos said. “I’m here with my dad, grandpa and my uncle. We’ve been having a great time together—it’s a lot of fun to get together and go ice fishing, but today was especially fun.”
Padrnos was all smiles as he joined staff and hosts on the big stage at Center Ice to talk about his day. Local radio-show personalities and the Brainerd Ice Fishing Extravaganza chairman Tad Johnson asked Zac which truck he was planning on selecting, he quickly responded: “I’ll go with the Ford.”
Last year Padrnos competed for the first time, but didn’t catch a single fish, which is generally the case for over 80% of the field on an annual basis.
“I caught a whitefish earlier in the day that might have had me in the money to begin with,” he said. “But when that big walleye came through the hole, I knew it was a special fish—definitely one that would help me finish high in the rankings.”
Padrnos’ winning walleye fell victim to a pink and white tungsten jig dressed with a wax worm, a classic northern ice-fishing rig.
“We were fishing in 55 feet of water when the walleye appeared on my electronics at 30 feet,” he said. “I cranked up my bait to face level with the fish, and he ate it. The fish was temporarily tangled up and my uncle reached into the water to work it free and pull it through the hole. People all around us were cheering and clapping, and it was an exciting moment for sure!”
For Zac and his accompanying family and friends, fishing the Extravaganza is a family tradition.
“Zac’s grandfather Greg Holtz, his uncle Chris Holtz and his late great grandfather Alvin Holtz fished the first contest 33 years ago,” said Eric Padrnos, Zac’s father. “Over the years, our group has ebbed and flowed with as few as three anglers and as many as 12—there has only been two years where someone from our crew wasn’t able to attend. It’s something we look forward to every winter.”
Over the years, the group has made it into the payouts a few times, with the highest place being 12th place.
“Zac and I spend over 300 hours a year fishing together, often with additional family members,” he said. “We try to get out at least once or twice a week, he’s an avid fisherman with a dozen walleyes exceeding the 26-inch mark—this one is his new personal best. That fish was a team effort for sure, a family friend found the spot, his uncle Chris grabbed the fish, it was great. Once we realized how big it was, we all started shaking, hugging and cheering—we’ve spent a lot of time at other tournaments over the years and never expected to catch one like that.”
Fishing is a lasting tradition in the Padrnos/Holtz family, but so are Ford trucks. Zac had a choice between a GMC and Ford pickup, and when asked which one he was going to choose, he said “Ford,” without hesitation.
“His great grandpa drove a Ford, and both grandfathers on either side drive Fords, as does his uncle—and so do I. It’s certainly a part of our family tradition in the outdoors, a huge part,” he said. “Although he’d love to keep the truck, after some discussion we decided to sell the truck and keep the money for his future. Zac is on the school trap team and plans to buy a nice shotgun and he want’s save the rest for either his first vehicle in a few years, school tuition, or both.”
There were three generations of lifetime ice anglers on the ice that day representing a tradition that shows no slowing. What a wonderful story about family tradition, fishing and the Great Outdoors.
How It Works
“We had a crew of 100 volunteers come together and put 50 Strikemaster Lithium 40-volt ice augers to work, and within 2 hours the group drilled 14,300 holes through an average of 15 inches of ice,” said Extravaganza committee member Shane Meyer. “Strikemaster is one of our longest standing sponsors, I think maybe 31 of the 33 years they’ve supported this annual event and we’re very grateful. Is there a better testament to quality than to drill over 14,000 holes in a couple hours?
“With nearly 12,000 anglers who showed up, there weren’t quite two holes available per angler, but by Minnesota law, and if they buy two tickets, anglers can fish two holes,” he said. “With that, there are usually between 800 and 1,400 fish caught each year, sometimes up to 1,600 if the conditions are ideal.”
Basically, anglers and angler groups walk out to their desired locations—gear in tow—set up and drop lines down at the sound of the canon. Live and artificial bait are legal options. This event begins at 12 noon and the final blast comes at 3 pm. With high, sunny skies and temperatures near zero the whole day, it was just long enough to stay comfortable.
You can weigh as many fish as you like, one at a time, and your heaviest fish can make your day. Early on, the line at the weigh-in tent was several hundred people long—most weighing small perch. But you’d be surprised at how and what counts. Historically, walleyes have been the winningest fish with northern pike being the second winningest fish, but crappies, perch and especially tullibee are also valuable fish to target.
“We paid out close to $275,000 in prizes across the top 150 places and raffles,” Meyer continued. “We mix it up to keep things interesting. Places 25, 50, 75 get ATVs, 100th place gets a sweet Ice Castle and 150th gets an ATV—so catching the smallest fish actually pays out pretty well. Other prizes include numbers of Strikiemaster augers, Aqua-Vu underwater cameras , Mr. Heater propane heaters, Maluna Coolers, Fleet Farm gift cards, a Radco Roll-up tonneau cover and more. It’s an awesome lineup of prizes.”
The best part of this event is the comradery across the entire field. It’s like an SEC football tailgate party in the heart of ice country.
“Everybody is out there having a good time,” he said. “There’s no question a lot of luck plays a role at this event, but nobody cares. Everywhere you go, anglers have custom flags put up, some are wearing costumes and the best part is you hear constant cheering and applauding when someone catches a fish and begins running it up to the weigh-in tent. It’s almost like everyone is cheering for everyone. We’re proud of it.
“We couldn’t do this without our awesome sponsors, fellow Jaycees and of course our countless volunteers. The folks of the Brainerd Lakes Area truly make this what it is.”
This is not only the biggest ice fishing tournament in the world, it’s the best one. Period.
Experience the event for yourself—the 34th annual Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza is already scheduled for February 3rd, 2024.
Event sponsors include: Fleet Farm, Strikemaster Ice Augers, Ice Castle Fish House and RV, Grandview Lodge, Mills Automotive Group, C&L Distributing, Clam Outdoors, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Northland Sports Center, Lakes Gas Co, Vexilar, Inc., Aqua-Vu, Magnum Research, Inc. Radco Truck Accessory Center, Maluna, Advantage Seamless Gutters, Mike’s Tree Company, LLC, Wings Financial Credit Union, Roundhouse Brewery, Nic’s Works LLC Tree Service, Visit Brainerd, The Pietig Properties Group – REMAX Advantage Plus, Brainerd International Raceway, Waste Partners, Gull Lakes Events, Interstates and CDR Exchange LLC