BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The 53rd annual Frank Schneider, Jr. Memorial Muskie Tournament is right around the corner, and anglers from across the state will soon be vying for the opportunity to reel in the notoriously ugly fish, along with an assortment of prizes.

The angling event, put on by the Twin Cities Chapter of Muskies, Inc., is scheduled for Sept. 11-13, and will take place on 25 northern Minnesota lakes and rivers near the towns of Bemidji, Walker, Cass Lake, Longville and Hackensack.

Each year the tournament draws about 450 to 550 participants, and this year, tournament director Peter Janik hopes the event will embolden folks to get out on the water, cast or troll their lines and “find a moment of normalcy” again, given the past few months of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We're hoping that the turnout will be good because the DNR has said that fishing licenses, in general, are significantly up from years past, so hopefully that’ll translate well,” Janik said.

A number of changes have been made to the tournament’s format because of COVID-19, and it will be virtually structured to follow outdoor event guidelines enforced by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Department of Health.

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“Our goal this year is to safely hold this annual event in the midst of the COVID pandemic,” Janik said. “We’ve relied on the Minnesota DNR, the governor’s office and the Minnesota Department of Health to provide guidelines and requirements for outdoor events. We’ve followed that very strictly to make sure that we maintain the ultimate level of safety that we can.”

The event is a "Catch, Photo and Release" tournament this year, and there is a new way contestants must register their fish on the water.

“We're asking everybody to register online, and then we have a mobile app that has been customized for the tournament by a company called Lake Labs,” Janik said. “Contestants can now register fish over their phones, and it eliminates any need or requirement for any kind of in-person fish registration, so that's a big thing.”

Janik encourages anglers to become familiar with the Lake Labs app prior to the tournament and said a test tournament will be available until Sept. 10 for those looking to practice using the app.

All tournament anglers must practice social distancing and wear face masks at boat launches and in public places during the event. Janik said that there will not be one single launch location in order to encourage social distancing.

Additionally, there will be no pre-tournament gathering, tournament dinners, or awards banquet this year.

However, on Sunday, Sept. 13, to avoid a large gathering of people, the tournament’s grand prize drawing and awards program will be held outdoors in the Northern Lights Casino parking lot, requiring those eligible to be present and social distancing in their vehicles at the time of the drawing.

A variety of awards will be given out, which includes:

  • The top 10 finishers and top three juniors will receive a plaque, a Fenwick rod, Abu Garcia reel, and Berkley line.

  • The top adult finisher will receive a week stay at Red Wing Lodge on Sabaskong Bay in Lake of the Woods.

  • Every person who registers a qualifying muskie is automatically entered in the grand prize drawing. The total amount is based on $15,000 for a full field of 500 participants. The total grand prize cash amount will be divided into three equal amounts.

  • Additional bonus prizes for women, fly fishing, and muskies caught at 50-inch or larger.

Created in 1967, the angling event is the Twin Cities Chapter of Muskies, Inc.’s oldest tournament. It was named for Frank Schneider, Jr., whose commitment to improving the sport of muskie fishing has been maintained over the years.

For 35 years, Schneider championed catch-and-release fishing for all species, and lobbied for more restrictive regulations to improve fishing and regularly supported funding increases for natural resources.

“Schneider is one of these founding fathers of the Muskie Inc. organization, but he was also there to make sure that proper outdoor legislation was being enacted, or being drafted,” Janik said.

Proceeds from the tournament assist the Twin Cities chapter in its efforts to protect and promote muskie fishing in the state, and Janik said the tournament also helps to preserve an attitude for quality fishery in Minnesota.

“I think pretty much since the inception of the tournament, it’s been important for us to try to bring business to towns after the main tourist season is over,” Janik said. “Our overall goal this year was to still have the tournament and then make it a positive and safe outdoor event.”

Tournament registration closes Aug. 31, and those interested in participating can register online at www.twincitiesmuskiesinc.org. In-person registration can be done at Thorne Bros. in Blaine, Reed's Outdoor Family Outfitters in Walker and One Stop in Longville.

Entry fees are $80 for adults, $30 for juniors and $150 for a family of two adults and two juniors or one adult and three juniors.

For adult and junior anglers who find it difficult to get off work or school on Friday, there is a two-day Saturday/Sunday-only option at $60 for adults, $20 for juniors and $130 for a family package.