DEVILS LAKE, N.D.—It's been a long run for the original organizer of the annual Devils Lake Volunteer Fire Department Ice Fishing Tournament, but Fire Chief Jim Moe has one more round to go before he can breathe easy.
The event he started as a fundraiser for the local Eagles Club in 1984 has grown from a contest of 100 two-person teams to this year's Jan. 27 whopper with 5,000-plus anglers and thousands more ticket holders hoping to net one of more than $325,000 in prizes.
"The hotels are all full. It's a huge impact on the community that weekend," Moe said. "We sell out every year. The tickets probably come out the first of October, and I tell you, by mid-November they are really difficult to find."
Though the number of available tickets was increased from 20,000 to 22,500 this year, Moe said it still was a sellout. Organizers now are calling vendors in case any stragglers remain—but on the slim chance unsold tickets exist, there's already a waiting list.
Take a look at the 160-some prizes, and it's easy to see why the event is such a popular draw. Separate prizes are awarded for the fishing contest, but you don't have to dip a line at all for a chance to win a 200-gallon gas certificate, a gun safe or trip to Hawaii. Or a Yeti cooler, an electric meat grinder or the half-beef to fill it. The grand prize is a 2018 Ford F-150 SuperCrew pickup, but the 2018 Jeep and Toyota Camry aren't too shabby either. Nor are the $5,000 and $2,500 gift cards.
The event is a huge undertaking. So much so that Moe joked his favorite part of the tourney is "when it's over."
This year will be his last at running the event.
"We're turning it over to a younger group of firefighters," Moe said. "They will carry on the tradition, and we will be around to coach them."
Moe was vice president of the Eagles Club when he first was asked to come up with a fundraiser. When the fraternal organization was closing in the late 1990s, they decided to turn the annual event over to the firefighters who as regular volunteers were a big part of its success.
After the first few years, the event hit some bumps with cheaters who tried to pre-fish the lake and save the big ones. Organizers quickly wised up to that by adding some safeguards and scrambling the prizes. They also opened up prizes to non-anglers.
"After that, it has been growing, growing, growing," Moe said.
The event raises up to $200,000 for the Fire Department, which uses the money for trucks and equipment. On order this year is a new crash and rescue truck.
Moe said it has been a lot of fun over the years to see so many people come together for the community.
"We'll drill in the neighborhood of 6,000 holes, so that's why it takes a whole lot of people," he said. "It's not just two or three people who organize it. When it's all said and done, we have 250-plus volunteers who make this happen. And believe this, they come from Wisconsin, Bismarck, Missouri and Minnesota to help out. They don't care to fish. They just want to help drill holes."
The whole town rolls out the red carpet for guests. Chili feeds and live bands are on tap, and courtesy rides are available to keep everyone safe.
"As a fire chief and an organizer of the event, I'm always worried about people making it to town and back home safely," Moe said. "It can get a little scary with the weather and ice conditions. I'm relieved the next day when everybody has made it home safely, is off the lake and nobody got hurt."
Registration opens at 6 p.m. Jan. 25 and 26 in the downtown Memorial Building, and the fishing runs from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 27 on the east side of Six Mile Bay on Devils Lake. The prize drawings begin about 7 p.m. that Saturday in the Memorial Building.