'Cancel or get creative': Wauconda ice fishing derby adapts to the times

Like everything else it seems, the 12th annual Lake View Villa Association Ice Fishing Derby this weekend on Bangs Lake in Wauconda has been modified for the times.

Contestants still will drill through the ice and sit in shanties to catch winning bluegills, crappie and other fish.

But COVID-19 precautions mean the big tent, live music and related activities that add to the atmosphere of the popular fundraiser for veterans will be missing.

Alternate dates in case of thin ice have always been part of annual event planning, but accounting for COVID-19 is new territory. Rather than yield, organizers are adapting.

"We had two choices," said Ryan Jacobsen, a Navy veteran and co-founder of the event. "Cancel or get creative. We got creative."

While the fishing will go on as usual, how will organizers know who wins? The solution is an app called FishDonkey, which will significantly lessen the load on organizers and allow the derby to expand from one to three days, Jan. 29-31.

"We've never done it virtually," Jacobsen said. "The key is the FishDonkey app. That's where everyone needs to go."

Anglers will use FishDonkey to enter their catches.

"That's the beauty of this app," Jacobsen said. "Everything is tracked internally. Once it's over it will download all the winners automatically. It's pretty cool."

App co-founder Darren P. Amundsen in an email said it's difficult to determine how much growth in the app's use has been due to the virus, but tournament participation volume is up 800% over last year.

"We believe FishDonkey is the future of tournament fishing and we have been growing like crazy, both with and without COVID," he added.

Last year, a record of more than 500 anglers registered for the derby. This year, providing the appropriate social distancing and safeguards at what has become a social event was a limiting factor.

About 127 contestants had registered as of Monday morning.

"We'll get our mad rush (but) we know our numbers will take a hit," Jacobsen said. "That's fine. We'll still generate funds for the cause."

Canceling the ancillary activities was a disappointing but straightforward choice.

Since the tournament is virtual, spread over three days and will involve participants fishing on their own, the village did not require a special event permit, said Village Administrator Kevin Timony.

The village has taken a similar approach to other virtual events, such as 5K races that were not set for a particular day and time, he added.

The village is waiving inspection and permit requirements for fishing shanties, and the derby will be donating $2 per participant to help support future fish restocking. Timony said.

Registration is $20 with proceeds to TLS Veterans Outdoors, which provides outdoor activities for veterans, active duty members and their families.

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More than 500 ice fishers flock to derby on Bangs Lake in Wauconda

  Jim Buchholz of Des Plaines checks his lines during the 11th annual Lake View Villa Association ice fishing derby on Bangs Lake in Wauconda last February. Joe Lewnard/, 2020
  An app called FishDonkey will be used this year to track winners at the annual Lake View Villa Association Ice Fishing Derby on Bangs Lake in Wauconda. Joe Lewnard/, 2020
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