The Brainerd Jaycees announced the launch of America’s Ice Fishing Tournament, a new virtual ice fishing tournament taking place Jan. 22.

It will be in addition to, not replacing, the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza occurring annually on Gull Lake.

For a tournament first organized in 1991, the Ice Fishing Extravaganza was postponed three times, moved to a different lake once, and in its 31st year the Brainerd Jaycees played the hand they were dealt, moving the Ice Fishing Extravaganza tournament to a virtual format, complying with Minnesota’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Highlights from the 2021 virtual Ice Fishing Extravaganza tournament.

Contributed
Highlights from the 2021 virtual Ice Fishing Extravaganza tournament. Contributed

The event hosted about 4,700 registered participants across the state of Minnesota and raised more than $100,000 for local charities and nonprofit organizations. It was deemed a huge success with a lot of positive feedback, said Tad Johnson, the chairman of America's Ice Fishing Tournament.

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The new virtual tournament will be a supplement to the traditional, in-person ice fishing tournament.

“We did not want the virtual tournament to take away from the Extravaganza,” Johnson said. “We don't want people to feel like they have to do one or the other so we wanted to develop the virtual one so that it was in addition to, an added way to win. … It was a lot of long discussions on if we had the bandwidth to take it on. At the end of the day, we thought the demand was there and we decided to take a shot at it.”

Highlights from the 2021 virtual Ice Fishing Extravaganza tournament.

Contributed
Highlights from the 2021 virtual Ice Fishing Extravaganza tournament. Contributed

Though the decision was not an easy one for the Brainerd Jaycees to make, the organizers felt they would be able to host a virtual tournament without interfering or taking away from their in-person event the following week.

The Ice Fishing Extravaganza is scheduled for Jan. 29, 2022.

Leana Nelson, who helps with marketing for America's Ice Fishing Tournament, said switching gears and learning how to organize and run a virtual tournament last year was a learning experience for the Brainerd Jaycees.

Looking to impart the lessons learned from last year’s tournament, organizers opened up the tournament to any publicly accessible body of water that is covered in ice and located in the United States.

The event is open country-wide to all ice fishing anglers and will be hosted through the FishDonkey app Jan. 22, 2022. Eligible species for the tournament are walleye, northern pike, crappie, perch, and sunfish. 

Contributed
The event is open country-wide to all ice fishing anglers and will be hosted through the FishDonkey app Jan. 22, 2022. Eligible species for the tournament are walleye, northern pike, crappie, perch, and sunfish. Contributed

“If someone from Southern California wanted to go to northern Montana and go ice fishing, as long as on the day of the contest they're following all the local laws and are on a sheet of ice, anyone can participate,” Johnson said. “Including if Canadians wanted to come down to America to fish.”

The tournament organizers chose walleye, northern pike, crappie, perch and sunfish as the eligible species as they are some of the most popular ice fishing species in the upper Midwest.

Highlights from the 2021 virtual Ice Fishing Extravaganza tournament.

Contributed
Highlights from the 2021 virtual Ice Fishing Extravaganza tournament. Contributed

Looking to encourage angling of all eligible species this year, the tournament will move away from awarding placement based on the length and is moving to a points-based system, giving a maximum of 100 points for a perfect fish.

The tournament will be hosted through the FishDonkey app and contestants are eligible to win one of 500 prizes, with a total value of more than $67,000, which will be scattered throughout the top 2,000 places based on point-awarded fish values, including a new F-150 truck or $25,000 cash.

Highlights from the 2021 virtual Ice Fishing Extravaganza tournament.

Contributed
Highlights from the 2021 virtual Ice Fishing Extravaganza tournament. Contributed

That means participants will still need to use a commercially available bump board or measuring board, but with the point system, a 100-point sunfish would beat a 90-point northern. If a tiebreaker is required, the first fish registered would win.

The tournament is scheduled 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.Jan. 22, 2022. Registration and more information can be found at virtualicefishing.org. Follow the event on Facebook for updates.



TIM SPEIER can be reached at tim.speier@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5859. Go to twitter.com/timmy2thyme to follow him on Twitter.