SUDBURY -- Wawa has been named the winner of the Ontario Ice Fishing Challenge, beating out 23 other communities to take the top prize.

From Feb. 13 to March 7, 24 communities across Ontario competed in the challenge, a COVID-safe event that used a mobile app called MyCatch, where anglers could compete in a fishing tournament while still following social distancing rules.

“The tournament could not have come at a better time,” Josee Parise, a key organizer for Wawa, said in a news release Wednesday.

“The pandemic has been hard on all of us, especially during the long winter months. Thanks to the MyCatch app, everyone was able to participate in a safe and healthy environment, giving us some much-needed normalcy.”

Almost 700 participants competed for $9,000 in cash prizes, as well as local bragging rights for their town. In addition to the cash prizes, more than $15,000 in local prizes were donated from community sponsors to encourage local anglers to get and win the crown for their town.

Fresh experience

Virtual fishing tournaments are a COVID-friendly way to enjoy being outdoors, the release said, especially this time of year when everyone has been inside for much of the winter.

“These tournaments provide anglers with a fresh experience,” said Sean Simmons, president of MyCatch, in the release. “Anglers just take a picture of their fish on a measuring device, and the app does the rest. And the leaderboard provides an extra level of excitement as anglers watch in real-time as old records are broken and new leaders emerge.”

Four categories of prizes were awarded for the longest fish, covering northern pike, walleye, trout (of any species) and perch. Additional prizes were awarded to anglers who caught the most fish and the greatest number of fish species.

Jacques Bernard of Kapuskasing landed the longest fish of the event, with a 113.0 cm Northern Pike. The longest trout (lake trout) was won by Darryl Godin of White River with his 102.9 cm catch. The longest walleye came in at 77.5 cm, landed by Jeremy Van De Kraats from Matheson. And finishing it off with what could be an unofficial Ontario record is a 40.6 cm Yellow Perch caught by Jakob Beauvais of Moonbeam.

Being able to host events with local tourism organizations is more than a friendly competition, it’s also good business. “MyCatch tournaments have also proven their value for local tourism,” said Jim Clarke, tournament coordinator for MyCatch. “For example, an event with the Town of Sylvan Lake over the Family Day weekend generated nearly $100,000 in economic activity for just that one event.”

Collects data on fisheries

MyCatch also has the unique benefit of compiling catch data collected by anglers and working with the research community to help inform fisheries science.

“We are passionate about angler data being used for science,” said Simmons. “It’s incredibly difficult for researchers to collect the data they need to effectively monitor and manage fisheries across the country, so collecting data from anglers helps to fill a large gap. We know that anglers share our passion for conservation so it’s a win-win; they enjoy a great tournament experience while contributing to the resource they love.”

After the success of the 2021 Ontario Ice Fishing Challenge, MyCatch is now looking forward to the open water season.

“We have enjoyed working with all our partners and look forward to some open water events we can work on for the coming season,” said Clarke. “And we will definitely hold this event again next year. We had such a fantastic response to this year’s event, it will only get bigger and better.”