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13-Year-Old Catches PB Walleye to Win Largest Ice Fishing Tournament in The World

Zac Padrnos wrangled a 9.45-pound walleye to top the near 12,000 angler field and claim the top prize.

13-Year-Old Catches PB Walleye to Win Largest Ice Fishing Tournament in The World

The 33rd Brainerd Jaycee Ice Fishing Extravaganza attracted nearly 12,000 anglers with a huge Gull Lake walleye taking the title.

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.

Brainerd Jaycees ice fishing extravaganza
Nearly 12,000 anglers gather on Gull Lake to compete for nearly $275,000 in prizes and raffles at the 33rd annual Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza.

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.”

Zac Padrnos 2023 winning walleye
At 13 years of age, Zac Padrnos of Hutchinson, Minnesota, caught a hefty 9.45-pound walleye that was good enough to take top honors at this year’s Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza.

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.

Padrnos and Holtz famly together after final weigh-in
The outdoor family tradition runs deep with this crew. From left: Eric Padrnos (Father), Zac Padrnos, Greg Holtz (Grandfather) and Chris Holtz (Uncle).

“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.”

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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?

breaking ice at Brainerd extravaganza
With an impressive total of 14,300 holes drilled the night before, the contestants need to break the ice with hand tools before they can fish.
ice fishing at gull lake minnestoa
One of the many strategies at this event is to fish the edge of the available field in hopes of catching fish as they move into the fishing area. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

“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.

keeping ice fishing holes thawed
It was especially cold this year with daytime temps holding steady at zero degrees, keeping the ice fishing hole open takes some innovation. Here a couple of eager anglers use an empty coffee can filled with hot charcoal will do the job for a few hours.

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.”

tullibee ice fishing
Gull Lake Tullibee are often targeted because they generally run bigger than the plentiful perch that often bite. A fish like this almost guarantees a spot in the top 150. Local angler Jon Woelfle earned a $250 gift card with this fish.
brainerd fishing extravaganza weigh-in tent
Thanks to 30+ volunteers who managed the scales, long and continuous lines of anglers with fish were quickly moved through so each fish could be released alive.

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.

safety sled at brainerd ice fishing extravaganza
The Jaycees are prepared for anything. There is a media trailer, medical tent and ideal transportation and more. This rig is pretty cool!
aqua-vu at the brainerd ice fishing extravaganza
Minnesota based company Aqua-Vu was on-site for anglers and spectators to speak with and experience the value to having an underwater camera on-hand.

Experience the event for yourself—the 34th annual Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza is already scheduled for February 3rd, 2024.

brainerd jaycees ice fishing extravaganza weigh-in crowd
The crowds were impressive throughout the tournament, especially at the final weigh-in when prizes were announced. You have a tremendous chance to catch a prize-worthy fish at this derby.

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

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Come experience the 34th annual Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza 2024 next year on February 3rd.

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