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Last year's tournament was held on Lake Agnes. The scene will switch back to Lake L'Homme Dieu this year.

Ice fishing challenge is back

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news Alexandria, 56308
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549
56308

After an Ice Fishing Challenge that didn't go as anyone expected in 2011, the Alexandria Sertoma Club and members of the Viking Sportsmen are excited to put that behind them and get back on a familiar lake on February 11 from noon to 3 p.m.

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The 2012 Ice Fishing Challenge will be back on Lake L'Homme Dieu near the Kruger's Creek access after moving to Lake Agnes last winter. The fact that no fish were caught was well documented, and organizers didn't know how the public would respond coming into the 2012 tournament until tickets went on sale. Early indications are that the public is happy to be back on L'Homme Dieu, a lake where they have had no problems catching fish in years past.

"We feel people are coming back," tournament co-chair Josh Timm said. "Our pre-ticket sales are pretty close to where they were last year. At this point, it's not a huge concern."

That doesn't mean there haven't been a few wrinkles along the way. Unseasonably warm temperatures this winter left organizers wondering if they would be able to hold the tournament.

Timm said ice on L'Homme Dieu was only around 10 inches thick in early January, not near enough to hold a tournament with thousands of people on the ice. The recent cold stretch alleviated those concerns over the last three weeks.

"We were kind of nervous that we wouldn't be able to hold it," Timm said. "But since then, we've gained about a foot of ice. There's close to 18-20 inches and we'll hopefully gain a few more leading up to the tournament."

The annual Brainerd Ice Fishing Extravaganza also made for an unexpected challenge when the Brainerd Jaycees postponed their tournament to the exact same day as Alexandria's. Ice conditions on Gull Lake were not safe on the regularly scheduled date of January 21.

The Brainerd Tournament, tabbed as the world's largest charitable ice fishing contest, draws around 10,000 anglers annually. Alexandria organizers won't know exactly how the move to February 11 affects their number of participants on Lake L'Homme Dieu, but a couple of big sponsors have already pulled out of the Ice Challenge in Alexandria to be in Brainerd that day.

"It is what it is," Timm said. "I understand that the day they were going to have it, the conditions weren't going to be really great, and I understand that. Safety is number one for all the participants...I have zero control over what happens, so we just got to be positive."

Those who fish in Alexandria will have a chance to win the biggest first-place payout in tournament history. The top prize for the biggest fish is $20,000. The prize money that wasn't handed out last year was rolled over into this year, making this the biggest Ice Fishing Challenge ever. The payout in fishing prizes will total $57,900.

Anglers who catch the top 100 fish will all receive a cash prize. Second place is worth $5,000 and third place $2,500. Second through 100th place will receive prizes ranging from $200-1,000.

A total of $9,800 worth of raffle prizes will also be handed out. Raffle tickets are $5 apiece with first place taking home $5,000, second place $1,000 and $500 for third place.

"For a chance to win $20,000, that's a hard one to turn your back on," Timm said. "To spend $35 to get in and have a chance to win that kind of money, plus it's just a fun event anyway."

This year's tournament will also feature a youth fishing expo hosted by professional fisherman Mike Frischt. The expo will run from 9-11 a.m. with everyone younger than age 16 taking home a prize.

Tickets for the Ice Challenge can still be purchased online at www.icefishingchallenge.org or Elden's Food Fair and Christopherson's Bait in Alexandria. Tickets are also available out of town at the Holiday Super Stop in Sauk Centre and Koep's Corner in Glenwood.

Follow #AlexMN @EchoPress Sports Reporter Eric Morken on Twitter at @echo_sports.

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