HASTINGS, Minn. — Despite the cold temperatures, Lake Rebecca was still full of fish houses and families for the annual Ice Fishing Adventures event last Saturday.
"It was a fabulous turnout," said Carpenter Nature Center Executive Director Jen Vieth. "There was approximately 115 participants, so a huge turnout. It was really fun that the fish were biting and the amount of cheering we heard from families catching their first fish on the ice. It was just really heartwarming."
The event was put on by the city of Hastings in conjunction with Carpenter Nature Center to teach event goers ice safety, fish species identification, habitat and fishing techniques.
"If you've never done it, going out on the ice is scary if you don't know the safety procedures," Vieth said. "It's such a neat Minnesota-based winter-type experience that we wanted to figure out how to give people the opportunity to try it in a safe way.
"In the first year we did a number of different ice fishing programs," she added. "We did a preschool story time ice fishing year at the nature center on our little wetland where we showed the kids all the things happening under the ice in the winter. It's not just frozen solid. There's still wildlife under the ice."
Those who were ice fishing were able to do so without a license via Minnesota Department of Natural Resources waiver. Volunteers came from In-Depth Outdoors, Carpenter Nature Center and Hastings Environmental Protectors.
"It takes a community to hold an event like this and make it a positive experience," Vieth said.
Although there wasn't an official count of how many fish were caught, she said many people were comparing who caught more.
"There were a lot of fish stories. Kids comparing, 'I got four,' or, 'I caught five,'" Vieth said. "It was all catch and release, so they're all back there for someone else to catch another day."
Radim Kajicek, from the Czech Republic, was visiting Minnesota as part of a work trip when he heard from his colleagues about the event.
"I'm here for two weeks, and I had a bunch of meetings this week and next week and during the weekend. I'm glad the guys took me here to have an experience because we're in the land of 10,000 lakes, right?" he said. "So I got this experience, even though it's cold. I can talk about it back in the Czech Republic because it will probably be unbelievable for them."
According to Kajicek, ice fishing isn't a thing in the Czech Republic and added that winter has been different this year in central Europe.
"No snow at all. Temperatures are above the point of freezing," he said. "When I left last week, the temperature was 55 degrees Fahrenheit, so it's strange temperatures in February."
Participants also had the opportunity to win prizes such as tip-ups, hats and an adult snowsuit if their name was picked from the sign-in list. A 3-year-old was the lucky recipient of the ice fishing snowsuit, but Vieth said it's far more likely the dad was going to be using it.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the dad was trying it on right now," she laughed. "We had some great donations."
The Ice Fishing Adventures is expected to return again for two days next year due to its popularity.