Testing their Ingenuity

Technology has come a long way since 1990. When the Jaycees were putting together their first ice fishing contest, they couldn’t use Google because it didn’t exist. They had to pool their skills and figure things out on their own.

They used a Paymaster check-printing machine to record the weights of the fish — dollars for the pounds, cents for the ounces.

They used the Lakes Printing employee time clock to stamp the time a fish was recorded. As Kevin Thesing recalls, “Every Monday after the contest I’d be calling around asking, ‘Who’s got my time clock? People want to come to work.’”

Kevin Dens remembers that they did everything by hand the first year, from filling out tickets to addressing envelopes and licking stamps. The second year they did mailing labels on a dot-matrix printer. Don Ryan said the “technology advancement” the first year consisted of using a washcloth to wet the stamps. “We thought of that about halfway through,” he laughs.

After the contest, the metal poles for the big tents had frozen into the ice. Ryan remembers that they couldn’t pull them out so they connected batteries and jumper cables “and the poles would shoot out of the ice.” They all laugh at the memory.

“We learned through the nightmares,” says Ryan — and they’ve learned a lot over the years. Today, according to Bob Slaybaugh, the Brainerd event is the only licensed winter tournament in Minnesota that is allowed to do catch-and-release. The Jaycees worked with the DNR to develop a system for viable live-release, and fishermen are given bags to keep their fish alive in the water.

Community Leadership through Ice Fishing

Early on, the Brainerd Jaycees identified four objectives for the Ice Fishing Extravaganza:

  1. To promote the Brainerd Lakes Area throughout the Upper Midwest.
  2. To have a positive economic impact on winter tourism in our area.
  3. To raise funds for local charities.
  4. To promote the Brainerd Jaycees as an active, growing chapter of young people making a difference.

The event’s continued success is due, in part, to the fact that the Jaycees have stayed true to those four goals. Over the years, when Kevin Thesing has been asked what he thinks of new ideas for the contest, he responds, “I always go back to those four main guiding points. If you stick to those, it will stay what it is.”

The Jaycees’ purpose is to develop community leaders and successful citizens. Bob Slaybaugh says, “I’ve always thought of the Jaycees as an internship for life. You get to try things without necessarily putting your career in jeopardy, and you develop skills that you can apply elsewhere.

“All in all, it’s been a great learning experience for a lot of people,” he concludes. “We laugh that we were a bunch of knuckleheads putting it together but it was done with a lot of thought and it’s a business model that’s very successful.”