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Poles ’N Holes touts big prizes, fun

Meg Barker of Detroit Lakes and Rich Birdwell of Minneapolis munch on a few minnows inbetween sips of beer. The Poles ‘N Holes Fishing Derby is known for its relaxed, festive atmosphere as food, drink and music add to the fun. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Ice fishermen are gearing up to catch one of the most popular fishing derbies around.

The 4th annual Poles N’ Holes Fishing Derby is set for Saturday, Feb. 8 on Little Detroit Lake.

The Detroit Lakes Breakfast Rotarians are putting on the event, which has been bringing in roughly 750 fishermen every year.

“We’ve seen a slight increase in turnout, but what we’re also noticing is the talk about the derby around town starts up a little earlier each year,” said DL Breakfast Rotarian and event coordinator Andy Van Dam.

“There’s a buzz about it, and I think that’s because people are really enjoying it,” he added.

Van Dam says he believes the event is so popular because it isn’t overly competitive and has a festive atmosphere.

“It’s really exciting — a lot of people come out to watch, and the Holiday Inn has food and drinks out there and we’ve got music set up,” said Van Dam. “Everybody just has such a great time.”

   Participants will have a chance to win some pretty significant prizes, too, as the top 30 heaviest fish automatically win something.

“First prize is $10,000, and then after that it’s kind of random,” said Van Dam, who says the biggest prizes don’t necessarily go to the biggest fish, but can fall anywhere within those other 29 places.

“So 2nd place might only get $100 gift certificate, while the 30th place gets $1,000,” said Van Dam. “It makes it fun because anybody has a chance to win some big prizes.”

There will be over $35,000 in cash and prizes to give away to those 30 different winners of the event, but everybody can have a chance at winning.

Ten-dollar raffle tickets could translate into big payoffs, as raffle prizes are huge again this year.

They include a 2014 Polaris Sportsman 570, a pair of Vikings season tickets, a Browning X Bold Rifle, a Weber gas grill, a Clam Voyager Portable Fishhouse, a 46” flat screen TV, a Strikemaster auger and $100 in cash.

Van Dam says while some of the big prizes are purchased outright by the Rotary, others are either donated or sold to them with deep discounts from sponsors of the event.

Money raised from the event goes to the DL Breakfast Rotary.

“So every dime we get from the derby is turned around and given back to the community through donations and grants for different local organizations,” said Van Dam, adding that over 30 of those Rotarians are out on the ice running the event.

Weather is an obvious factor in the turnout for the derby, but Van Dam says typically at 9 a.m. when they go to open up the gates there are people standing in line to get in.

“But we don’t start fishing until noon,” he said, “and that’s really fun because at noon we fire off the gun to set everybody fishing, and pretty soon within about 10 minutes we get all these people come running with fish to have them weighed.”

Van Dam says it’s sort of “pandemonium” at the beginning, then it mellows off before really heating up at the end of the three-hour tournament.

 During that time he says participants will be bringing in just about every kind of fish species under the sun, including walleye, croppies, sunfish, bass and northerns.

“And it’s the northerns that usually win,” said Van Dam.

Tickets for the event are $35 in advance or $40 on the ice.

Both event tickets and raffle tickets can be purchased online at or from any Detroit Lakes Breakfast Rotarian, Nereson’s, Quality Bait and Tackle, Lakes Sport Shop or the Lake Place in Lake Park.

“And if we don’t sell out of raffle tickets, we always come pretty close, so buy them early,” said Van Dam, who also says they are once again hoping to crack the 1,000 mark in participants.

“I think we can do it,” he said. “This is the year.”