For the first time in its 37-year history, the Devils Lake Volunteer Fire Department’s Ice Fishing Tournament has been canceled, but the raffle portion of the big event will go on virtually, organizers say.
There just wasn’t enough ice to safely hold the tournament, which draws thousands of anglers onto frozen Six-Mile Bay of Devils Lake, said Cory Meyer, a member of the Devils Lake Volunteer Fire Department’s tournament committee.
The tournament is always held the last Saturday in January, but winter temperatures to date have been unseasonably warm across the region.
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“It’s good ice, it’s just that conditions weren’t good enough for us to have the fishing tournament itself out there,” Meyer said. “We’re a fire department, we preach safety, so we have to err on the side of caution.”
Organizers made the difficult decision to cancel the tournament Saturday, Jan. 23, after checking the ice in the tournament area, Meyer said.
The tournament was scheduled for 1 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, on Six-Mile Bay of Devils Lake. Combined with a huge raffle event traditionally held that night in the Devils Lake Memorial Building, the tournament is the fire department’s largest fundraiser.
Organizers already had canceled in-person indoor activities associated with the tournament, including the raffle, because of crowd restrictions and risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, Meyer said.
The decision to cancel the fishing tournament was “really disappointing,” he said.
“Unfortunately, Mother Nature must have COVID, as well, because she’s had a fever, and it hasn’t been very cold,” Meyer said.
With the cancellation, the fishing and raffle prizes both will be awarded during a virtual drawing set for 7 p.m. Saturday. The drawing will be streamed online, over the Devils Lake cable access channel and on local radio, Meyer said. This year’s event features more than $325,000 in prizes, including the grand raffle prize of a 2021 Chevrolet crew cab pickup, and a Ford Bronco Sport that originally would have been awarded to the lucky angler catching the fourth-largest northern pike.
The fishing prizes will be awarded first, Meyer said, and all of the winning tickets will go back in the barrel for the raffle drawing.
“You can win a Bronco Sport ‘fishing’ on your couch” instead of on the ice, he said. “It is what it is.”
Big economic impact
The Fire Department’s ice fishing tournament is one of the largest events in the Lake Region and has a big economic impact, said Suzie Kenner, executive director of Devils Lake Tourism.
The Fire Department annually sells all 22,500 tickets, which cost $25 each, weeks in advance. That alone generates $562,500, Kenner said. If 3,000 local anglers and 2,000 nonlocals fish the tournament, the resulting economic impact is more than $1.3 million, Kenner said, citing estimates compiled from a North Dakota State University report titled, “Resident and Nonresident Hunter and Angler Expenditures, Characteristics and Economic Effects.”
That estimate is probably on the low side, but Devils Lake Tourism understands and supports the Fire Department’s decision to cancel the tournament, she said.
“While the ice fishing season has been going strong, to put that amount of people and equipment in such a small area was a concern this year due to the warm temperatures to start off our winter,” Kenner said in an email. “We are hoping that people will still take advantage of the weekend and make their way to Devils Lake for a fun weekend anyway, and fish on their own instead of just during the tournament on Saturday. We are still open for business and ready to serve you.”
That way, anglers can fish all day instead of just for 2½ hours, Meyer of the Fire Department said; they also can use electronics and fish in the comfort of heated shelters, neither of which are allowed in the tournament.
“We appreciate everybody’s support even though we can’t have the tournament,” he said. “We hope Mother Nature’s happier next year.”