Brats and Minnow Shots: Grub from the World’s Biggest Ice Fishing Tourney

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ALTHOUGH all of the nearly 9,000 participants of the 32nd Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza presumably signed up to catch fish on Jan. 28, most will tell you it’s really an occasion to get together. (And for a good cause too: The annual tournament in Nisswa, Minnesota, raised more than $98,000 for local charities last year.)

“The fishing aspect ain’t all that great,” says Tucker Vetsch (above), who has attracted attention for his taxidermy buck hat. Although the 18-year-old placed second overall in 2022, he didn’t catch a single fish on Saturday. “I go for the experience and all that goes on, rather than the actual fishing.”

For most folks, that includes grilling out on the ice, sipping half-frozen beers with old buddies, fishing with the kids, snagging raffle prizes, and occasionally, catching a walleye or perch.

“It started out with my grandfather, my dad, and I as just a yearly thing, but as we got older and the friendship between the guys that went out there got stronger, we’ve all made it a staple every year,” says Ronald Enrooth of his high school buddies. The Enrooth crew has attended the tournament since 2006 and has slowly turned the weekend event into a full-blown vacation, sometimes heading there as early as Wednesday before the tourney. “We go up, we eat, we play cards, we snowmobile. We just enjoy the northern Minnesota atmosphere. And then we fish.”

So in the true spirit of the Jaycees Extravaganza, here’s a look at some of the food and drink that power the funnest ice fishing tourney in the world.

A drone shot of anglers on the ice at Brainerd Jaycees.
Anglers on the ice at Hole in the Day Bay on Gull Lake, which lies about 10 miles north of Brainerd. Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber
A food truck on the ice that sells deep-fried oreos to ice fishermen.
Anglers line up for $6 deep-fried Oreos, hand-dipped corn dogs, and cheese curds: regular or jalapeño, and available by the bucket for $17. Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber
A couple in red buffalo check pajamas toasts each other with a hot chocolate.
Cody and Amy Hines kick off their eighth tournament together with a pair of Drunken Rudolphs, because spiked hot chocolate is “a nice way to warm up the insides.” The high on Saturday was 3 degrees F. Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber
An ice fishing sled complete with busch light.
A sled loaded with all the necessities for a day on the ice—including a case of Busch Light. Trucks and other vehicles are not permitted on the frozen lake, so participants pack in their gear, tackle, snacks, and beverages in sleds like this one. Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber
A small kid holds up a sign that says $1 hot dogs.
John Wely, 8, helps sell $1 hot dogs to raise funds for a local wrestling team. Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber
A small charcoal grill with three hot dogs sizzling on the ice.
After cold beer, hot dogs are top of the list for cheap and easy fare on the ice. Ackerman + Gruber
A man in overalls grills hot dogs at an ice fishing tournament.
Dave Moonen of Danger Moon Farm in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, nurses a hot drink while grilling wieners made from “old school pigs,” as the sign on his trailer advertised. Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber
A woman with a yellow sweatshirt holds a minnow shot.
Live minnow shots (something something PETA has griped about in the past) are a staple, and an occasional rite of passage, at ice fishing tournaments like the Extravaganza. Ackerman + Gruber
A woman takes a drink of a minnow shot.
Sydney Wold throws back a fresh minnow inside the drinks tent. Ackerman + Gruber
A red haired girl in a yellow coat fishes.
Grace Lenhardt, 13, sits on a heated couch, which her dad built on skis, and focuses on fishing. Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber
Three men prepare to tip back a shotski while ice fishing.
From left: Longtime buddies Ronald Enrooth, 31, Chris Eaton, 29, and Zach Hinricher, 29, prepare to take shots of peach schnapps. The Enrooth family of New Prague, Minnesota, has been attending the tournament since 2006. Over the years, their camp kitchen has evolved to include the cabinet and Coleman cookstove visible in the background. The plastic jug on the ice contains a premixed cocktail of orange juice, 7 Up, and vodka, to which the guys add their preferred amounts of brandy. A few days later, none of them can remember the nonsense name they invented for this year’s mix. (Purple Monster? Orange YumYum?) “The only ingredient that we religiously put in there is Leroux blackberry brandy, because that’s the only blackberry brandy that my family buys,“ says Enrooth. “It’s our running joke that it’s blessed by the Pope.” Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber
A skillet of hot steak with steam coming off it.
The Enrooths cook up New York strip steak and potatoes seasoned with home-smoked salt, pepper, garlic, and butter. The crew initially prepared the standard fare of brats and burgers, but they have expanded their repertoire to include soups, chili, and butter-fried beef. “In a normal year my dad is the chef, but he actually had Covid a few weeks before, so he was taking it easy,“ says Enrooth. “I prepared everything and then we all took turns doing the potatoes and steaks.” Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber
A man in fur holds out a bottle of peppermint schnapps.
Sheldon McCoy stays warm with a fur-lined hat and gloves, and a bottle peppermint schnapps. The latter, explains Enrooth, is ideal for ice fishing. “It has enough alcohol content not to freeze, but it’s not as harsh as a vodka or whiskey. You don’t need to bring any mixers, and it’s good to go.” Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber
Two men dressed in coats and hats eat hot dogs on the ice.
Mark Welna (left) and Mike Ronayne put away a pair of hot dogs. The two have been friends since first grade. Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber
A fake memorial on the ice with a Coor's light tied to some flowers.
A fake memorial erected to pour one out for a buddy who is very much alive but missed this year’s Extravaganza—the first time since 2004. A pair of walnuts rest below the frozen Coors Light. Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber

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