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Grand Forks angler wins $2,000 for 1.3-pound walleye Saturday on Devils Lake

Zac Bernier of Grand Forks had good reason to smile after landing $2,000 for the 1.3-pound walleye he caught to win the walleye category Saturday afternoon during the Devils Lake Volunteer Fire Department's 35th Annual Ice Fishing Tournament on Devils Lake. Bernier also won a trophy and a free taxidermy mount of his winning walleye. (Submitted photo)

Zac Bernier of Grand Forks is $2,000 richer after catching a 1.3-pound walleye Saturday, Jan. 26, during the 35th annual Devils Lake Volunteer Fire Department Ice Fishing Tournament on Devils Lake.

That made braving the brutal cold worth the effort, Bernier said, adding he caught the walleye less than a minute after the 2½-hour fishing portion of the weekend festivities started Saturday afternoon.

"I dropped (the jig) to the bottom, got a bite before I even had a chance to jig, and brought it right back up," Bernier said.

The walleye was the first fish to come to the scales, Bernier says, so he had to hope no one weighed in a bigger walleye during the tournament, which began at 1 p.m. and wrapped up at 3:30 p.m. on Six-Mile Bay of Devils Lake.

As the old Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song goes, "the waiting is the hardest part."

"Every time they announced another walleye was coming up to the weigh station, I figured I would get bumped down, but somehow it stayed No. 1 the whole time," Bernier said. "It was a stressful wait for 2½ hours."

A fundraiser for the Devils Lake Volunteer Fire Department, the ice fishing tournament was just one of the events on tap during the annual event always held the last Saturday in January.

Prizes were awarded for the top five walleyes, perch and northern pike, but it's not always the biggest fish that lands the biggest prize. This year, for example, the angler catching the third-largest northern pike landed a 2019 Ford F-150 Crew Cab pickup. Winning the truck was Jeffrey Ecker of Chilton, Wis., with a 3.42-pound northern pike.

As with other winners in the fishing categories, Bernier took home a trophy and will receive a free taxidermy mount of his prize-winning walleye.

"I definitely got lucky, but it does require some skill," he said. "I saw a few people lose fish.

"Very cool weekend for me," he added. "It was definitely worth braving the brutal weather."

Top five winners in the three fishing categories as listed on the tournament website were:

Perch

• First: Jerry McMahon, Big Stone City, S.D., .22 pounds, $2,000.

The remaining four prizes in the perch category were awarded by drawing, since McMahon's perch was the only one brought to the scales. Winners by drawing were:

• Second: Dawson Ryba, Devils Lake, hard shell fish house.

• Third: Courtney Everson, Devils Lake, $1,000.

• Fourth: Delvin Strika, Turtle Lake, N.D., $750.

• Fifth: Layton Brawner, Hettinger, N.D., $500.

Walleye

• First: Zac Bernier, Grand Forks, 1.3 pounds, $2,000.

• Second: Rick Hanson, Mayville, N.D., 1.2 pounds, $1,500.

• Third: Pete Vangsness, Ortonville, Minn., 1.06 pounds, $1,000.

• Fourth: Tom Bye, West Fargo, N.D., 1.04 pounds, side-by-side all-terrain vehicle.

• Fifth: Jesse Hendricks, Bismarck, 1.02 pounds, $500.

Northern pike

• First: Brittany Bethke, Minneapolis, 4.28 pounds, $2,000.

• Second: Johnathan Danails, Oakes, N.D., 3.48 pounds, $1,500.

• Third: Jeffrey Ecker, Chilton, Wis., 3.42 pounds, 2019 F-150 Crew Cab.

• Fourth: Mitchel Braine, Dickinson, N.D., 2.02 pounds, $750.

• Fifth: Elyse Torgerson, Buchanan, N.D., selected by drawing, $500.

Caden Kurz, 8, of Thompson, N.D., was the winner of a youth starter fishing package.

The weekend fundraiser culminated with a Saturday night raffle drawing in the Devils Lake Memorial Building. Winning the grand prize in the raffle was Brode Balvitsch, Grand Forks, who will take home a 2019 Dodge Big Horn Crew Cab pickup. A total of 160 raffle prizes were awarded, and more than $325,000 in prizes were offered between the raffle and fishing events.

A full listing of raffle prize winners is available at www.dlvfdicefishingtourney.com.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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