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Finding Minnesota: Aitkin’s World Famous Fish House Parade

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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AITKIN, Minn. (WCCO) — In Minnesota’s cabin country, things get a little slow this time of year.

Most vacationers are gone, and it would take something special to lure them back in November.

Well, the people of Aitkin seem to have found that something, with their “World Famous Fish House Parade” on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

Mike Binkley shows us how a town goes from normal to nutty in one day, as we go Finding Minnesota.

There are only so many times you can keep doing the same things, and expect better results.

In the town of Aitkin, home of the only stoplight in the county, the old Christmas tree lighting and choir singing weren’t attracting big crowds on Black Friday.

But then one man’s sarcastic remark changed everything. Chuck Butler, the former marketing director of Aitkin’s Chamber of Commerce, remembers it well.

“And he says ‘Well maybe if you just lined up a bunch of trucks with fish houses in the back, and had a parade, that would be better than what we’re doing now,'” Butler said.

The idea, you might say, took off from there.

Since 1990, the townspeople have not only been decorating their fish houses, but also their snowmobiles, trucks and trailers.

“There’s a lot of neat floats,” said Matthew Hill, executive director of the chamber. “There’s a lot of crazy people that come into town. A lot of people dress up just along the streets. We get thousands of people in town for this event.”

This year, the kids in the library’s reading program are just about finished with the costumes for their float.

“It’s gonna be fun,” said Demetrius Mickelson, a third-grader dressed as an ice fisherman.

The United Methodist Church is back with its “Little Church on Ice.”

“We like to tell people that God’s with us no matter where we go,” said Leon Hicks, who’s married to the pastor.

It has turned into a competition to see who can come up with the silliest, most creative tribute to ice fishing. The Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative usually has the biggest fish.

It’s this kind of big thinking and strategic casting that’s lured in people who could be spending their time and money elsewhere.

“Last year I believe there was a couple from China if I’m not mistaken,” said Amanda MacDonald, owner of The Beanery coffee house. “They thought it was crazy. Crazy and amazing.”

“Winter is eight months out of the year here,” said Butler, “so you have to have a good sense of humor.”

Many families will spend this coming weekend building their floats, most keeping their ideas a secret until parade day.

The four-block long parade starts at 1 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving.

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