World’s Largest Ice Fishing Tournament Goes Remote, Draws Participation from Thousands of Anglers

by Quentin Blount

The world’s largest charitable ice fishing tournament went virtual this year in the state of Minnesota due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its 31st year, the Ice Fishing Extravaganza — hosted on Gull Lake’s Hole-in-the-Day Bay — had to go virtual with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging across the US. The annual event drew more than 4,700 anglers to ice fishing holes across Minnesota.

To avoid large crowds during the tournament, participants were able to fish on any lake in the state during normal contest time and date. Anglers were to upload the pictures of their catch, tickets, and fish measurement information to the event’s app, FishDonkey. A team of committee members was on hand to examine each fish entered to prevent cheating.

Tad Johnson, a judge of the event, said that everything turned out even better than they originally thought.

“Given all the changes and the hurdles and everything we overcame, it actually turned out better than we were hoping,” said Johnson. “We were really nervous. We only had 2,000 people signed up three weeks before the tournament. So we were like, ‘Oh no,’ so to have over double the amount of participants in the last couple weeks? People jumped on. They joined us for the virtual event. We were really happy it worked out.”

On Sunday evening, the Ice Fishing Extravaganza official Twitter account sent a photo marking all of the event’s fishing locations across Minnesota.

Results from Ice Fishing Extravaganza

The results of the virtual ice fishing tournament were still being verified as of Sunday evening, according to Johnson. The Jaycees had a lot of work ahead of them trying to authenticate, verify, and tabulate more than 10,500 photos submitted of 4,198 fish measured for competition.

Johnson said judges will continue to work until they can finalize results. They will be released to the public once winners are notified.

Anglers in the tournament say they were happy with the event. However, they did express some frustrations using the app to submit their fish. Evidently, the app had a propensity to lag. That complicated things, even more, when fishermen were already experiencing low cellular reception.

Johnson says he was aware of the issues and that the app was working overtime in the initial stages of the competition. However, he also notes that each photo has a timestamp. This means that the delays from using the app had no bearing on the outcome of the tournament.

“The first 30 minutes of the tournament was where it was slow. The technology was running slow, the app servers for the app were running slow. But we tried to communicate that all fish that were taken, photos were received on a consistent schedule, even if it didn’t get uploaded until later in the day.”

“Then after that first bit, it ran pretty well,” Johnson added. “We were really, really happy with how the FishDonkey app worked. They were a good partner. We’re really thankful they were able to tweak it to fit our style of a contest.”

The success of Saturday’s tournament could mean that future Ice Fishing Extravaganzas will continue to feature a virtual component. Johnson says that it’s too early to tell for sure. Members of the Jaycees will deliberate on it in the coming months.