Maple Lake Ice Fishing Derby takes precautions on the ice during mild weekend

[anvplayer video=”4833303″ station=”998122″]

The annual Maple Lake Ice Fishing Derby has been bringing families out on Maple Lake for 45 years. It attracts 10,000 to 15,000 people every year.

On Saturday, the sun was shining as the competitors dropped their lines hoping to pull in a champion northern pike.

“We do it to try to take the northerns out of the lake so all of the other species can survive,” said Jay Sifferle, the event's vice president. “The biggest thing about today is bringing everybody together and really just having a great day, a fun day, and now a safe day.”

The warmer weather forced them to make adjustments this year.

“A nice day is good and bad,” Sifferle said. “This is the first year we’ve not allowed fish houses on our contest.”

He said the ice is only about 16 to 19 inches thick. 

As a precaution due to unsafe ice conditions, the Wright County Sheriff’s Office also banned vehicle traffic at the public accesses on Upper Maple Lake. The restriction began 3:30 p.m. Friday and expires at 8 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 20.

Sifferle said they met with the Sheriff’s Office several times leading up to the event.

“The third time we met with them and they said, 'We’re going to shut you down if you don’t,'” Sifferle said. "We had to be careful — safety is a main issue."

He told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they’ve been going out to check the ice about three times a week. The sheriff’s office has also been measuring the thickness.

“What we’re doing is plenty safe,” Sifferle said. “We probably could’ve had the main contest, but again, we’d rather be safe than sorry.”

While ATVs and snowmobiles were allowed, many participants pulled their gear out onto the ice in sleds.

“Didn’t know so it was kind of a shock,” Jake Peterson of Big Lake said with a laugh. “Now we gotta work. I hate that.”

It’s his first time joining the competition. He hopes to catch a winning fish.

“When you’ve got this many people out here with thousands of lines in the water, you’re going to have to be lucky,” he said.

Others have been coming year after year. Cody Richter said he usually fishes off the tailgate of his truck.

On Saturday, his four-wheeler stopped working.

“Hoping we can at least get something to show for it,” he said. “I’ve had enough trouble just trying to get out here.”

While the restrictions are inconvenient, Richter said it’s a small sacrifice for an enjoyable day.

“It’s Minnesota ice fishing, so what can you expect?” he said. “The weather first and foremost is the nicest part of the day. We catch something, it’s just a blessing, so we’ll see what happens.”

The Wright County Sheriff’s Office told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they haven’t issued any citations for vehicles on the lake.