Pandemic Presents Opportunity to Pivot for Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza
Brainerd, MN—For the first time in more than 30 years the Brainerd Jaycees are trying something really innovative when it comes to their world-famous ice fishing contest—and that is a completely different tournament format. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the State of Minnesota has implemented several precautionary measures for events and gatherings. Hailed as the world’s largest charitable ice fishing tournament, with more than 10,000 participants annually, this event is definitely one that would not make the cut for the 250-person maximum for outdoor events. That did not stop the Brainerd Jaycees though. Instead of canceling or postponing the 2021 event, the organizers moved in a new direction, and adopted a virtual tournament format. What does that mean exactly?
It means that participants can fish on any lake in Minnesota, catch a fish, register it online via the Fish Donkey app, and be eligible to win one of 150 prizes valued at more than $200,000. It means the person with the 128th largest fish registered wins his/her choice of a brand new Ford or GMC pick-up truck. Yes, we mean 128th largest fish wins a pick-up truck, that is not a typo. In an effort to keep contestants in-line with the spirit of an in-person tournament the prizes have been scattered throughout the leaderboard, and not every fish caught wins a prize, which will make it virtually impossible to cheat and win a specific prize. In order to register a fish, participants needs to upload a picture of his/her catch along with the length and species. The app technology is capable of verifying when the photo was taken and any fish not caught between 12:00-3:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 30, 2021, will not be eligible for a prize.
The Brainerd Jaycees take a lot of pride in this event. The organizers are members of the Jaycees nonprofit organization and they are men and women between the ages of 18-40. They are all volunteers; there are no paid staff members operating this wildly successful event. There is a group of about 20 people who work on the event all year long, another 30-40 Jaycees volunteer in the weeks leading up to the event, and an additional 250 community members volunteer the weekend of the event. The Ice Fishing Extravaganza was started because the Jaycees wanted to run a great event that would raise money for one of the Club’s favorite local organizations, Confidence Learning Center, also known to many as Camp Confidence. Camp Confidence is a place where people with cognitive and developmental disabilities can safely experience the outdoors. It serves more than 15,000 people annually and the Brainerd Jaycees are proud to have contributed more than $2-million to this organization since the beginning of the Extravaganza in 1991. What the Jaycees did not initially anticipate is the impact this event would have on the local economy. Gull Lake is one of the major lake chains in the area and is well-known for summer tourism but not as much for winter tourism. The Extravaganza helped change that. It is anticipated that more than $2-million in local economic impact is generated each year on Extravaganza weekend. The dollars that flood into the community in lodging, dining, entertainment and supplies is a boon during slow season. It has garnered national, even global attention, and has helped solidify Brainerd as a year-round world-class tourist destination.