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Raising Minnesota: Local Kids Hit the Ice, Poles in Hand

Three little ones are introduced to a Minnesota tradition at this year's Minnetonka Community Education Youth Ice Fishing Tournament.

Everyone in Minnesota goes ice fishing, right? So in the interest of raising my children to be the best Minnesotans they can be, I figured they had to try it—at least once.

So, in true Minnesota fashion, I signed them up for the Fourth Annual Lake Minnetonka Youth & Family Ice Fishing Tournament. Before I knew it, Saturday came and so, with three kids in tow (one on loan from a friend), I loaded the car and headed over to Lake Minnetonka. 

By 10 a.m., Carson's Bay on Lake Minnetonka was filled with more than 60 kids, their parents, pre-drilled fishing holes and even complimentary fishing poles. For many of the kids, Saturday's event was their first experience ice fishing.

"I've never done this before," 5-year-old Aidan said to our fishing guide.

"Ice fishing?" The fishing guide asked. 

"No, just fishing, like ever," Aidan replied, peering with skepticism down a hole drilled into the ice. By event's end, Aidan had not only hooked a small sunfish, but the sport of ice fishing just might have also hooked him.

"That was so fun. I want to do that again," Aidan said in the car, two hours after it was all over. 

The event was free, sponsored by . It was easy, too. Kids and parents were able to just head out to—or literally drive out onto—Lake Minnetonka, just north of , and ice fish. Not only was equipment provided, but fishing guides were also on hand to help kids learn about the sport. 

Our fishing guide, Kyle, an event volunteer and fellow Wisconsinite, spent almost the entire time setting us up and coaching us through the process. And while it was no easy task gearing up three kids with three ice holes, three rods and even three baited hooks (this mom thanks him greatly for that, in particular), Kyle did it—happily.

Everyone at the event shared that same enthusiasm and upbeat attitude, talking to one another about their fish while sharing hot cocoa, chairs and even hand warmers. It's safe to say that everyone had a really great time—except for maybe the fish.

Although the tournament was technically only open to anglers between the ages of 5 and 17, many kids younger than 5 (mine included) were welcomed. And no matter the age, most every child spent the event sitting patiently next to a pre-drilled hole in the ice, eyes fixed on the yellow and red bobbers dangling into the icy water, waiting desperately for a bite. 

"I got one!" was exclaimed many times during the two-hour event. And every time an excited little voice yelled out those words, the scene was the same: a yellow-vested fishing guide would carefully run over to the young angler and help the little one reel in the catch. The child's accompanying parent or grandparent would clap and cheer and take a picture—or 10 pictures (myself included).  Once the fish was unhooked, the child, clasping the flapping fish between two heavily gloved hands, would trot on over to the measuring station, throw the fish down and hope it measured large enough to keep. Most of the time, it didn't. 

But event organizers seemed prepared for the majority of the fish caught to be nine inches or less. A hole had been drilled right next to the measuring stand, so one after another—plop! Kids threw back their fish back into the icy lake, then quickly returned to their fishing holes, ready for the next bite. 

The next bite usually didn't take long. Many kids reported catching five, six, even 10 fish during the two-hour morning event. The three kids in my brood—Aidan, 5, Grace, 4, and Eli, 3—caught a combined total of three small sunfish (or sunnies, to the fishing guides). 

Each time one of my kids pulled out a little sunfish, the memories came flooding back of catching my own little sunfish while fishing with my grandfather on Wisconsin's Lake Minocqua. 

And from the generations of families fishing together at the day's event, something told me it wasn't just my scrapbook which would soon feature side-by-side pictures of the 4-year-old me holding up a freshly caught sunfish next to a new picture of my own 4-year-old daughter holding up her own. 

No detail overlooked, the day's festivities ended with a large raffle so that almost no child went home empty-handed. A couple kids even got to pick out prizes for catching the biggest fish of the day.

Their choice of prizes—new fishing rods. 

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