By Jennifer Gallus
If you’ve been to any of Howard Lake’s fishing derbies in the past 62 years, you’ve likely seen Jim Wackler there.
Either as a young boy, a fisherman, an ice chiseler, the past Sportsmen’s Club president, the current announcer of events, or anywhere in between Wackler says he hasn’t missed very many of the derbies.
Wackler remembers the first Howard Lake Sportsmen’s Club Fishing Derby as a 7-year-old boy.
“Chuck and Timber Dahlberg were the big instigators for the first derby,” Wackler said. “The fishing derby has grown to be one of the bigger events in town.”
“My dad was very active in the sportsmen’s club. I remember as a teenager I would go with him to Timber’s Resort for the meetings,” Wackler said.
Timber’s Resort was once a popular establishment on Howard Lake. The resort was eventually sold and called the Garden Spot, but now is the sight of townhomes.
Wackler has always lived in Howard Lake. He worked at 3M in Hutchinson for 32 years, retired 11 years ago, and “has been hunting and fishing ever since.”
“I can remember winning a fishing stick at the derby 50 years ago,” Wackler laughed.
The most popular competitions at the derby are the ice chiseling and hole drilling events, according to Wackler.
“We get a lot of competition for those. The crowd gets into cheering them on,” Wackler said.
In fact, Wackler tried his hand at the ice chiseling event and said, “It warms you up. I tried it once and won’t do it again.”
The Howard Lake Sportsmen’s Club is grateful to Joe’s Sport Shop for always being so supportive of the event, for selling tickets, and for allowing the fish house to be parked at the sport shop.
The Country Store is also a major supporter of the event by selling tickets, serving a free lunch (with purchase of a $2 raffle ticket) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the day of the derby, and offering a $200 gift certificate to any fisherman who catches a dog fish during the derby.
Local merchants are also very much appreciated for their donations of prizes for the event. David Sale, of the sportsmen’s club, collects the items from area merchants.
“This is the twelfth fish house we’ve given away. We started offering the first one on our (sportsmen’s club) 50th anniversary. It’s been a good seller for us. We try to get the fish house at a reasonable price,” Wackler said.
The current sportsmen’s club president is Denny Decker, Keith Luhman is the treasurer, and Kenny Durdahl is the secretary. The club has about 60 members.
The club uses the money it raises to support Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, and to feed pheasants during bad winters.
The club also conducts a yearly gun training course, maintains the outlet to the lake, sends kids to Long Lake Conservation Camp each summer, and assists in the maintenance of the boat landings in Howard Lake.
“Personally, I help Paul Diedrich, the area fisheries manager with the Northern rearing ponds on the west side of the lake,” Wackler explained.
The two let the big fish in the pond to spawn, then they wait until the hatched fish are a few inches long before they release them into the lake.
“That’s how we repopulate the lake with Northerns,” Wackler said.
The fishing derby has always taken place the second Saturday in February.
Howard Lake derby set for Saturday
This year’s 62nd annual Fishing Derby will be Saturday, Feb. 9 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
The grand prize is a 6.5’X12’ King Crow fish house on wheels. First prize is a FL8 Vexilar depth finder, and second and third prizes are framed prints, and about 100 small prizes will be awarded.