Challenge met on the ice
Brandon, South Dakota native Larry Franke had never fished the Alexandria Ice Fishing Challenge until Saturday but vows he'll be back if they hold it again next year.
That is the kind of loyalty one might expect after taking home a $20,000 payday. Franke said it was still sinking in just minutes after it became official that his 2.71-pound northern took top prize out of a record-number of anglers that totaled more than 3,500 people on Lake L'Homme Dieu.
"Numb," Franke said when asked how it felt. "It's just like, wow, great...I had two other minnows I lost in that same hole, so there must have been one hungry one down there. Third time's a charm I guess."
Franke was fishing in about 10 feet of water when the fish grabbed on, almost an hour and a half into the tournament. He was using a custom-made rod and a shiner minnow on a 1/4-ounce, perch-colored jig that he tied himself.
"I could tell it was a pretty good fish," he said. "But you never know what's going to take a tournament. It was a nice feeling fish, and it landed real easy."
Franke got it through the hole cleanly with the help of his neighbor from South Dakota, who grabbed it under the gills with a gaffing. When he went to take the hook out, the fish had already worked its way free.
"I said later, 'Did you see where I had it hooked?" Franke said. "He said barely in the lip. I'm lucky to have landed it."
That's the kind of day it was for Franke. He beat out second-place finisher Bill Wadd's northern by .02 ounces. Zach Engel took third with a northern that weighed in at 2.55 pounds, while Andy Loxtercamp (2.31) and Bryan Hjelm (2.29) rounded out the top five.
It was an afternoon Franke will never forget and one organizers of the tournament won't either. Members of the Viking Sportsmen and the Sertoma Club didn't know how the public would respond to this year's event after no fish were caught on Lake Agnes a year ago.
People clearly put that behind them with the move back to L'Homme Dieu and a chance to win a $20,000 top prize. A total of $57,900 was handed out to anglers who brought in the top 100 fish.
Tournament co-chair Josh Timm said they have never had near the numbers that they saw out on the ice this past weekend. Hundreds of tickets were sold on Friday and before the tournament kicked off at noon on Saturday as anglers braved the elements on a cold and windy afternoon.
"It's kind of a sign of our community," Timm said. "We kind of view this as a community event. People look forward to our tournament every year, and we want to thank everyone for coming out and supporting our local charities...I was actually going to be happy if we had 2,500 people out there. That's why I was so shocked. We're very happy."
Tickets were also sold out by the end of the tournament for the raffle drawing that handed out $9,800. Ethan Deatins won the $5,000 top prize, while Jeff Kuhn ($1,000) and Jason Johnson ($500) took the second and third-place prizes, respectively. Complete results of the raffle drawings and the fishing prize list can be seen at www.icefishingchallenge.org.
"It really couldn't have gone any better," Timm said. "We had record-breaking numbers. Our raffle actually ran out. It was just a great deal. The vendors seemed to be really busy all day long. Everything went so well."
Franke felt the same way after taking home the top prize. He had already thought about what he would do with the money if he won, heading into the tournament. All that was left to do after winning was getting the OK from his wife.
"I told her on the way up, I said, 'I'd like a new pickup,'" he said with a smile. "So we'll see where that goes."