Pandemic forces Minnesota ice fishing tournaments to go virtual; some cancel, others launch | KSTP.com

Pandemic forces Minnesota ice fishing tournaments to go virtual; some cancel, others launch

Jessica Miles
Updated: January 27, 2021 06:54 PM
Created: January 27, 2021 04:17 PM

The Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza draws in roughly 10,000 anglers on Gull Lake in the Brainerd Lakes Area each year.

James Pepel is one of them. He's been going for years.

"It's usually a fun weekend, we go stay up there, just friends and my brothers, we all go up there to have a good time," he said.

But after three decades, this year, the tournament is pivoting so it can continue.

"I think a lot of people want to be here in person but we can’t do that because of the pandemic," Benji Thoennes, chairman and event director of the contest, said.

It will still go on — virtually.

"We're doing a fishing tournament statewide on all public waters with the FishDonkey app," Thoennes said.

From noon until 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30, registered anglers can fish any Minnesota lake, take a picture of their fish and upload it to the FishDonkey app.

"The FishDonkey app will timestamp it and GPS it, so we know they are in Minnesota, and we know when they caught it," he added.


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Instead of setting up weigh-ins on the ice, there are laptops at the ready to verify the catches.

"We’re actually super excited, we’re in new waters, we don’t exactly know how everything is going to go but I think we’re set," Thoennes said.

Maple Lake's Ice Fishing Derby draws in about 8,000 anglers each year.

They've opted to cancel this year, stating the state maximum of 250 people at an outdoor site just won't work. However, they are still auctioning off some larger prizes, hoping to bring in some money for the community.

While some communities are canceling contests because of COVID-19, others are starting them, hoping they will help during the pandemic.

Pepel is hosting the Inaugural Third Rail Ice Fishing Tournament in Big Lake next month.

"It's something fun for the town, we don't have to worry about being too close to one another. The whole lake is open for the tournament, so we're not fenced into one spot," Pepel said.

Having fished in the Brainerd Jaycees' event, he knows how it gives back to the community. He's hoping to build some community camaraderie in Big Lake, knowing many have been hit hard during the pandemic.

"I just want to show our appreciation for all the people who do come into the bar, you've been here for us, we're going to be here for you," he added.


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