Another way to tailgate

Lake Elmo Lions  to host 57th annual ice fishing contest on Super Bowl Sunday

Not long after the sun comes up on Super Bowl Sunday, about a dozen volunteers wielding propane-powered ice augers will drill 2,000 holes into 20 inches of ice on Lake Jane in Lake Elmo.

That is, if the weather cooperates and the ice stays thick.

“Pray for good weather,” urged Craig Knoll, a co-chair of the 57th annual Lake Elmo Lions Club fishing contest. But his idea of “good weather” probably differs from the rest of us. He’s hoping for no letup in this week’s below-freezing temperatures to keep the ice in good shape, and also a slight warmup the day of to keep contestants from hunkering down at home.

Lake Elmo Lions Club members say they hope there’ll be at least as many people dropping their lines into the cold water from 1 to 3 p.m. on Feb. 2 as there are holes.

Tickets are $4 in advance at area businesses and $5 at the entrance. Proceeds help benefit local programs, including Second Harvest Heartland, a local food bank.

All about history

Not long after the club started, it hosted its first ice fishing contest in 1957. The extent of the event and the prizes offered have fluctuated over the years, but it’s become a contest that community members expect and attend in droves, growing in popularity significantly in recent years, organizers say.

Bob Novak, who’s been a club member for about 45 years, remembers when the prizes were bigger, and the competition was cutthroat.

He said some contestants used to try to bring in their own large fish caught elsewhere and that veteran anglers knew were long dead.

“People were coming in with fish and then they’d...try to cheat us out of the snowmobile with a 4- or 5-pound northern,” Novak said. “It just laid there. It just didn’t do anything. He took his fish and went home.”

“We’ve gone from giving away a brand new snowmobile as a first prize to a cash prize of $300,” he said. “That eliminated the cheating.”

Saved from extinction

As a kid, Knoll accompanied his dad to the contest when it took place on frozen Lake Elmo. Back then, organizations around the region put on similar contests.

Considering their aging members, the significant time investment and undependable weather, many other clubs abandoned them, including those of nearby Oakdale and North St. Paul (although there are rumblings that the North St. Paul Fire Department may bring back an ice fishing contest, or something like it).

Lake Elmo’s endured, although it almost didn’t make it about five years ago.

Dave Leikam became the contest chair around that time, and he’s helped it grow in recent years.

“Some of the Lions were ready to call it quits, saying the ice fishing contest should go away, even though it’s our oldest and largest event,” Leikam said. “Being that there’s so much history with this particular event, I couldn’t see it go away.”

The contest was grossing between $3,000 and $4,000 back then, he said. This year, the group hopes to net $18,000 or $19,000.

Knoll came on as a co-chair last year, when Leikam needed extra help with the expanding tradition.

Part of the event’s longevity, Knoll said, is probably that the club wants it geared towards families, focusing on having fun and raising funds for local causes, not a huge competition offering extravagant prizes.

Chaotic, but family-friendly

It’s a modest event, but not small by any means. Last year, there were more than 500 vehicles parked on the ice, Knoll said, and many more attendees.

Once the contest kicks off, a lot of the action will happen on the center swath of ice that’ll act as the hub for the sections of holes surrounding it. There, the food tent, a prize shed and a fire will be set up. A prize will be given out every minute in a raffle and to every kid, age 12 and younger, who catches a fish. The club will offer hot dogs, hot chocolate and candy.

It usually gets rowdy when people start catching fish, according to Knoll.

“You’ll hear a roar on the northeast corner, then somebody will come running up with a fish shortly after,” he said.

The contest is also for the spectators and socializers.

“There’s a huge portion of people who like strolling around like it’s a boardwalk,” Knoll said. “It’s sort of a weird Minnesota thing to do.

“It’s kind of their pre-Super Bowl party.”

The Lions Club’s mission—to be the world leader in community and humanitarian service—is at the heart of the event. The club brings in community members to volunteer, compete and in turn raise money that goes back into the community.

“It’s really a cool testimony as to what can be done when everybody works together,” Knoll said.

Licenses, tickets required

The event requires multiple permits to run, including ones with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Washington County.

The event is subject to the DNR’s ice fishing guidelines, meaning participants age 16 and older need a fishing license, unless they fall under certain exceptions. For more information, visit

There needs to be at least 18 inches of ice for the contest to go on.

First responders of the Lake Elmo Fire Department will be on hand. Bait will be provided.

Tickets can be purchased in advance at Lake Elmo area businesses, including Lake Elmo Barber Shop, Gorman’s Restaurant, Hagberg’s Country Market, Twin Points Tavern, Lake Elmo Bank, Lake Elmo Oil, Lake Elmo Inn, Meister Bar & Grill and Blue Ribbon Bait & Tackle.

A ticket gets an individual on the ice as well as a chance to win a prize a minute and the grand prize drawing of $1,000. The anglers with the three largest fish caught during the contest win cash prizes.

The lake access address is 9288 Lake Jane Trail N.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7814 and Follow her at


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