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Perch Derby exceeds expectations

About 1,200 kids took part in the 21st annual Paul Bunyan Perch Derby Sunday on Lake Bemidji. Submitted Photo

About 1,200 kids took part in the Paul Bunyan Perch Derby Sunday on Lake Bemidji, catching about 50 fish and, hopefully, finding a love of the outdoors.

"We need to ... show them the value of the outdoors," said Bryan "Beef" Sathre, local fishing guide and teacher in the Cass Lake-Bena school district.

The event, held on Lake Bemidji, exceeded the hope of attracting 1,000 kids. It is put on each year by the Paul Bunyan Chapter of the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association. Sathre is vice president.

"It was such a fun day on the ice," Sathre said.

With nearly 1,200 kids, the event drew more than 4,000 people. Parking on the ice stretched from the Lake Bemidji waterfront to Nymore Beach to the Sanford Center.

Catching the biggest fish, an 11.6-ounce perch, was Hunter Wolden.

But many kids were winners. About 400 prizes were given away, including 125 bikes (winners were chosen randomly from all participants), 130 rod-and-reel combos and more than 250 tackle prizes.

"It was sort of like a fishing tournament, but really, it was more of a fun way to get kids outdoors and away from the computer games, the Xbox," Sathre said.

One grandfather brought his two granddaughters. The grandfather himself had never been ice fishing, but loves the outdoors and wanted his granddaughters to be exposed to all facets of outdoors activities.

"Those are the types of stories that come out of this event that are huge," Sathre said.

Volunteers made the event a reality, he noted. There were 13 volunteers from Cass Lake High School and four from Blackduck High School.

The goal was to have the high schools working with the kids, "so they learn the value of working with youth," Sathre said.

The event also would not have been possible if not for the support and donations from a variety of Bemidji businesses.

The only complaint of the day? No recycling bins on site.

"That's the only complaint we had. I'll take that in a heartbeat," Sathre said.