The annual Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza will take place in 2021, but in a virtual format on any lake in Minnesota.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and because the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources may limit fishing tournaments to no more than 250 people, the contest will occur virtually to avoid tens of thousands of anglers from congregating on Gull Lake's Hole-in-the-Day Bay.
The Jaycees made the announcement Wednesday, Nov. 25, on Facebook. The charitable contest - now called the Brainerd Jaycees Virtual Ice Fishing Extravaganza - is slated for noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021.
"Tournament organizers, along with the direction of state officials, have made the decision to continue forward with the annual charitable ice fishing contest in a virtual format," the Facebook post says. "Officials have determined that due to the ongoing pandemic the most responsible choice is to continue the tradition of the Extravaganza in a different way, asking anglers to fish on any lake in Minnesota during the normal contest time and date."
Event Chairperson Benji Thoennes said in the post: “Safety of all involved is our main concern this year. We know that the event will be different, but we hope to encourage everyone to get out fishing with their families and win some great prizes, which keeps in line with what the Extravaganza has always been about.”
While many comments on the Facebook post praised the Jaycees' decision, far more people disliked the decision and questioned the possibility of cheating.
The Jaycees followed up with another Facebook post on Friday, Nov. 27, that said: "A virtual contest will allow for the safest possible outcome during today’s pandemic concerns. The concerns behind a virtual contest are valid and we understand your frustration. However, with the web-based application that we choose we are confident this will provide a positive experience for all contestants."
The web-based app will go live the day of the contest. All six eligible fish species native to Gull Lake will be announced at a later date. Participants will be subject to all applicable Minnesota Department of Natural Resources licensing requirements.
The post further explained that in a virtual contest, all fish will be entered in by length and not weight. This requires all contestants to buy a bump board (ruler to measure fish). Each contestant will be required to take photos with their fish, ticket and bump board. Photos will not be able/allowed to be uploaded from a photo gallery; photos will only be accepted when taken within the web application that will automatically time and date stamp the photo.
The Jaycees will also have a team of committee members that will examine each fish entered during the hours of the contest.
The same prizes will be awarded, but the place number will change. Those changes will be announced at a later date.
The Jaycees remind participants that pre-purchased tickets must be registered by Friday, Jan. 15, to be eligible to participate in the new format. Visit https://forms.gle/LyqZcAXPra99rM6z8 to register tickets.
For more updates, visit www.icefishing.org.
First held in 1991, the Extravaganza has been postponed just three times and moved to a different lake once because of ice conditions. Hailed as the world’s largest charitable ice fishing tournament, event organizers have donated more than $4 million to Brainerd area charities, most notably Confidence Learning Center.
"We couldn’t be happier to be moving forward with the world’s largest charitable ice fishing contest and support our favorite local nonprofit organizations in the Brainerd Lakes Area," the Facebook post says.