Thunder Bay

'With heavy hearts': Organizers of annual Kenora Bass International cancel major fishing tournament

The Kenora Bass International 2020 has been  cancelled, organizers announced on their website and Facebook page Wednesday, stating the decision was made "with very heavy hearts."

Organizers concerned about financial situation of sponsors and volunteers, also reluctant to encourage travel

Organizers of the Kenora Bass International, one of North America's largest annual fishing tournaments, announced Wednesday that the 2020 event had been cancelled over financial concerns for sponsors and volunteers, and a reluctance to encourage people to travel and gather during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kenora Bass International/Facebook)

The Kenora Bass International 2020 (KBI) has been cancelled, organizers announced on their website and Facebook page Wednesday, stating the decision was made "with very heavy hearts" but was the best move for their northwestern Ontario community. 

Organizers explained the public health emergency created by COVID-19 "has altered the way we all move through our lives," and they were taking direction from both the Ontario government and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The KBI is one of the largest annual fishing tournaments in Canada, and was scheduled to run in the second week of August on Lake of the Woods. First prize in the event is up to $30,000.

Amateur and professional anglers from across North America, including pro Jeff Gustafson of Kenora, Ont., fish for largemouth and smallmouth bass, with the winning weight for the three-day event in the range of 45-50 pounds.

Although the KBI, which would have marked its 33rd anniversary, is still more than three months away, organizers stated there were already a variety of factors affecting their ability to coordinate the large event, which generally has at least 120 boats competing.

Volunteers, sponsors struggling financially, emotionally

Organizers listed four primary reasons for the cancellation of the 2020 event.

"1. Our Sponsors: so many of our amazing sponsors have been hit hard financially and emotionally during this pandemic, suffering closure or substantial loss of revenues. Our Board can not, in good conscience, ask those people to support our event in these very trying times.

2. Our Volunteers: our dedicated team of volunteers have been with us for many years. So many of our friends have lost their income or seen a major reduction of income and are struggling to make ends meet. If things start to settle down this summer, the majority of these folks will be heading back to work and unavailable to take the time to volunteer at KBI."

Organizers of the annual Kenora Bass International (KBI) on Lake of the Woods in northwestern Ontario announced the cancellation of the 2020 fishing tournament on Wednesday, citing a number of concerns, including the financial toll the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on sponsors and volunteers. (Kenora Bass International/Facebook)

"3. Our Anglers: we know the majority of our KBI anglers would still like to come fish, and we appreciate you. But many are in the same difficult situation as our Sponsors and Volunteers.

4. Our Community: our KBI Board of Directors feels strongly that, regardless of what the summer brings, we cannot ethically encourage people to travel to Kenora and gather in large groups, day and night, for 3 days under the tent. We believe that would be socially very irresponsible, and we want to ensure Kenora that we will do our part to keep everyone safe and healthy."

Fort Frances, Dryden fishing tournaments also cancelled

Board co-chairs Cori Libitka and Laci Dingwall said plans were underway to make the KBI 2021 bigger and better than ever, and encouraged people to continue supporting the event in the future, while remaining at home now to "stay healthy".

Two other large-scale fishing tournaments in northwestern Ontario have also been cancelled for similar reasons.

The Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary in July, but has now been rescheduled for July 22-24, 2021.

As well, organizers of the Dryden Bass Tournament  announced they will not be proceeding with their event, noting Premier Doug Ford had encouraged the cancellation of all summer 2020 fishing tournaments. The one-day event on Wabigoon Lake has been rescheduled for 2021.