Like every other event of the past year, the road to the 2021 Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza has been filled with uncertainty.

With the state allowing no more than 250 people at an outdoor event - and the extravaganza usually bringing in 10,000 anglers or more - event officials even had to weigh the idea of “throwing up the white flag” on the event before ultimately opting for a virtual format for 2021.

“Realistically, that was our only option,” event chair Benji Thoennes said. “We didn’t want to cancel it … so we came up with this new plan with new rules, and it’s rolling right now.”

With the virtual tournament, anglers can fish any public waters in Minnesota from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, even in a fish house or portable shelter. Those who participate in the tournament will have to take a picture of their catch next to any mass-produced bump board and upload it onto an app called “FishDonkey” for it to be entered into the competition.

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First, to participate anglers must download the FishDonkey app and sign up and pay for the contest through the FishDonkey platform. Anyone who already purchased a physical ticket for the contest must convert it to a FishDonkey registration to be eligible to win a fishing contest prize.

This year, winning fish will be declared by length, rather than weight as in past years.

2021 Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza Chairman Benji Thoennes cuts a hole Thursday, Jan. 7, on Hole-in-the-Day Bay on Gull Lake north of Brainerd. This year, the tournament has gone virtual and anglers must download the FishDonkey app to register for the tournament. The contest will be from noon to 3 p.m,. Saturday, Jan. 30, on any body of water in Minnesota. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
2021 Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza Chairman Benji Thoennes cuts a hole Thursday, Jan. 7, on Hole-in-the-Day Bay on Gull Lake north of Brainerd. This year, the tournament has gone virtual and anglers must download the FishDonkey app to register for the tournament. The contest will be from noon to 3 p.m,. Saturday, Jan. 30, on any body of water in Minnesota. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“We have picked six species of fish that you can catch and register - northern pike, walleye, perch, sunfish, crappie and tullibee,” Thoennes said. “Those are the ones we are accepting … The cool thing about the app is that it will timestamp and GPS the picture, so we will know when and where they got the fish.”

In the 30 previous extravaganzas, all but one held on Gull Lake's Hole-in-the-Day Bay in Nisswa, the angler with the largest fish would win the grand prize, typically a truck. This year, to dissuade cheating, things are being done a bit differently.

“To prevent the ‘tomfoolery,’ as we call it, we took the truck and moved it to the 128th spot,” Thoennes said. “The longest fish will not win the truck this year. Somehow, you have to catch the 128th-longest fish to win the truck.”


"The longest fish will not win the truck this year. Somehow, you have to catch the 128th-longest fish to win the truck."

— event chair, Benji Thoennes


Other large prizes, like a Polaris ATV and an Ice Castle, are scattered about on the scale of prizes as well. The Jaycees are still selling raffle tickets for a number of prizes too.

Thoennes said ticket sales for the event were down slightly from this point in 2020, but because roughly 40% of all tickets are typically sold on the day of the event, he was not too concerned.

“The week of the contest is when our sales really skyrocket, because people are just kind of waiting to see what the weather does and what the ice conditions are,” Thoennes said.

Proceeds from the event go to a number of charitable organizations, primarily the Confidence Learning Center - a year-round recreation camp for individuals with developmental disabilities.

More information can be found on the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza Facebook page.

Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or dan.determan@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.