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BRAD DOKKEN: All systems go for 35th annual DL ice tourney

Devils Lake Fire Chief Jim Moe stands next to some of the fish caught in January 2015 during the Devils Lake Volunteer Fire Department's Ice Fishing Tournament on Devils Lake. The tournament is a fundraiser for the fire department. Brad Dokken / Forum News Service1 / 2
Brad Dokken2 / 2

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. -- This year’s Devils Lake Volunteer Fire Department Ice Fishing Tournament features a new cast of organizers, but participants in North Dakota’s largest ice fishing event won’t notice any difference.

The 35th annual tournament is set for 1 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, on Six-Mile Bay of Devils Lake. And as usual, anyone who doesn’t have one of the 22,500 tickets available for the event is pretty much out of luck.

“They’re all sold out,” said Cory Meyer, assistant fire chief and one of four new organizers this year. “If you can get any now, it’s just a fluke thing.”

As always, the 2½-hour ice fishing tournament is just a small portion of what’s on tap for the weekend, which kicks off with free soup and chili feeds at 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday in the Devils Lake Memorial Building, 508 Fourth Ave. NE.

In addition, dances are scheduled from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday and a jam session from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

The big attraction besides the fishing tournament is the raffle, set for 7 p.m. Saturday, which features the grand prize of a 2019 Dodge Bighorn Crew Cab pickup.

Besides a well-run fishing tourney, the raffle is a big reason the annual event has been so popular over the years, Meyer says.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the prizes that we give away,” he said. “To start it out, they bought good prizes, and we give away quality stuff. For $25, we try to keep the price down on the ticket and we give away three vehicles. You get to fish for one, of course, but there are two vehicles on the raffle and some cash and some trips.

“Tickets aren’t hard to sell.”

Tournament organizers buy all of the prizes, and proceeds from the event, which is always held the last Saturday in January, are used for necessities such as new fire trucks, which can cost upwards of $580,000, Meyer says.

The tournament is the Fire Department’s only fundraiser, Meyer says.

“Most of our money goes into our equipment to try to make our firefighters safe and do our jobs better,” he said. “We’re not the busiest fire department around, but when we do have something, we want to make sure everybody’s safe and we can help people.”

Taking over the reins of the tournament could have been a daunting prospect, but Fire Chief Jim Moe and other original organizers laid the groundwork for a smooth transition, Meyer says.

“If we had any questions, we asked them what we needed to do, so they were pretty good about that,” he said.

Moe will continue his role as the on-ice announcer.

“Jim wanted to do the talking on the ice, which is great,” Meyer said. “He wanted to do the announcing. We’re still following basically the same format. There’ll be new faces doing the drawing part of it, but the guys on the lake, the old committee, will do what they usually do on the ice.”

As of last week, Six-Mile Bay had about 16 inches of ice within the tournament boundary, and the current cold snap should add another few inches, Meyer says.

Volunteers will hit the ice early Saturday morning to drill some 5,000 holes, Meyer says, and as many as 4,500 to 5,000 people will vie for the fishing prizes.

It’s not always about catching the biggest fish. This year, for example, the third-largest northern pike will earn a 2019 Ford F-150 Crew Cab pickup for the lucky angler.

No wonder, then, that some anglers drive hundreds of miles for the ice fishing extravaganza.

“We try to bring people into town to enjoy the city, have a good time and be safe,” Meyer said.

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