‘All about community’: Birchmont Winter Bash Fishing Derby reels in its second year
Over a thousand anglers and community members gathered on Lake Bemidji for the second annual Birchmont Winter Bash Fishing Derby for a whole lot more than just catching a fish or two.
BEMIDJI — Over a thousand anglers and community members gathered on Lake Bemidji for the second annual Birchmont Winter Bash Fishing Derby for a whole lot more than just catching a fish or two.
There’s a slew of reasons participants took part in the derby — from spending quality time with friends and family to the thousands of dollars in cash and prizes.
But one of the event’s board members and General Manager of Acme Tools, Aaron Schmitz, described the theme of the fishing derby with one word: Community.
“The ultimate goal and the reason we started this tournament was for the community because there hadn't been a fishing derby on Lake Bemidji in years,” Schmitz said, “and to try and raise money for the Bemidji High School and Bemidji State University fishing teams because they don’t get funding. Hopefully in the future, as the event gets bigger we can start giving to other programs.”
With loud music on the speakers and concession stands filled with snacks, there’s no doubt that the love for the sport of fishing has a way of bringing people together. Anglers had three hours to catch the prize-winning fish — and they did just that.
Schmitz was hoping participants would reel in a lot more fish than last year’s derby, but that wasn’t going to be too difficult. The grand total of fish caught during the 2022 Birchmont fishing derby was two fish — this year’s tournament registered over 85 fish.
“We wanted to create a competition where you didn't have to catch fish to win, you can win in the raffle,” event board member and General Manager at RP Broadcasting Mark Ricci added. “So you get your $20 ticket to win the raffle prizes and if you fish, you’re also in the derby prizes because the most important part is to raise donations to the charitable organizations that we are giving to.”
The raffle tickets were put in place so that even if a small number of fish were caught, the fundraiser still prosperes. But this year, all of the derby prizes were given away. Catching the biggest fish of the day got the lucky winner $3,000 — and that person was Julia Renn with the winning fish weighing in at 0.54 pounds.
Others weren’t so lucky. Participant Ethan Merril never even got a single bite during Saturday’s competition — his main objective was to stay warm in the midst of the single-digit temperatures.
“I’m just trying to stay warm and stay motivated because it’s way too cold to be fishing outside,” Merril said. “It’s been pretty slow so far but hopefully it will pick up today.”
Merril was hesitant to give away any secret pointers in his strategy going into the competition, but Schmitz said most people were probably targeting perch.
“Most people today are probably fishing with a fat head or crappie minnow for targeting perch,” Schmitz said. “Then you get the other guys that are going for the gusto and have a sucker minnow down on a tip-up hoping to catch a northern.”
It takes a village
Participants young and old hit the ice in hopes of catching a fish and bringing home a couple prizes, but even without catching a fish, everyone left with great memories — another aspect Schmitz and the other organizers wanted to provide for the attendees.
However, putting together a grand community fundraiser like this took a lot more than simply drilling holes in the ice.
“We’ve been working on this event since last year,” Schmitz said. “A lot of people might think it’s just drilling a couple of holes and going out to fish, I wish it was that easy.”
Dozens of volunteers and sponsors helped make this event possible. Schmit admitted there were too many sponsors to name, but said they couldn't have done it without them.
“Fortunately we had guys out here drilling holes and plowing for this event, thank you to those guys,” Schmitz said. “And we still have volunteers running around and helping and without everybody here to help, it doesn’t make this event.”
The day’s festivities were wrapped up with an awards ceremony for both the raffle and derby winners in the tent near Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge followed by an arrangement of live music, dancing and camaraderie.
"It's really just all about community," Schmitz left off. "People get tired of the winter when things get stale and we wanted to create a fun community event."
For a list of all the Birchmont Winter Bash Fishing Derby sponsors, visit facebook.com/BirchmontWinterBashBemidji.