The Heart O’Lakes Conference moved one step closer to starting its third season after a Board of Directors meeting on June 9.

The league announced they will be hosting a virtual fishing tournament for the month of June, while plans are formulated for dates in July and August.

“Basically, we just pushed the start of the league back a little bit as we navigate through all the guidelines of what we can do,” Heart O’Lakes Fishing’s Mitch Anderson said. “Obviously last week’s executive order opened things up for big enough groups that we can do our league nights.”

The league consists of 24 teams with the teams split up into five pods. One pod consists of Perham, New York Mills, Wadena-Deer Creek, Fergus Falls/Hillcrest Academy and Breckenridge. Detroit Lakes is in a pod with Ulen-Hitterdal and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton.

“We decided to keep the pods the same as they were last year,” Anderson said. “We keep league standings throughout and at the end of the year we do an Angler of the Year and other fun events.”

Anderson said they are working on getting the information out on what lakes the league will be fishing on. They will hold two league nights in July, two in August and hold a league championship in September.

The first league night is set for July 9. The second night will be set for July 23 with the third set for August 13. The championship is set for September 12.

The virtual tournament is a way to keep anglers interested in the league and get things going before the actual league starts up. Anderson said they will be giving away prizes to anglers who take top honors in categories for walleye, crappie, bluegill, northern/musky and bass.

“Kids will take pictures of their catches and report their fish to their coaches and at the end we will find out who had the longest walleye or the longest bass. There are five different species and at the end of it, we will give a $50 gift card to the kid who has the biggest,” Anderson said. “It’s something to keep momentum swinging and when we get into July, we will start up with the regular league.”

However, due to social distancing and the COVID-19 Pandemic, post-event banquets and meals will be canceled this year. They will still hold award-winning ceremonies after the event, but the meals have been canceled.

Anderson said the league took a jump from year one to year two with eight new teams, bringing the league to 24 teams. Anderson said they haven’t heard of any teams having backed out.

Anderson said they have received really good responses from anglers in the area that are willing to help out with the league.

“It’s been a good response. It’s just three nights of summer and you come for a couple of hours, take a kid out and put them on fish,” Anderson said. “It’s been less of an issue than schools or districts thought it would be.”

Wadena-Deer Creek Activities Director Norm Gallant said they have started their group message with members of last year’s fishing team.

“We started last year and it exploded. The league started the year before and there were a lot of teams. It was fantastic,” Gallant said. “It’s a great deal for kids and I am looking forward to it. It’s something that you can do that is pretty safe, especially with what they are looking at. What a great deal to get kids on the water, get kids fishing and get kids outdoors.”

Gallant said they have kids interested and are ready to get things going for the upcoming season.

One of the unique things about the HOL fishing league is that it’s open to different species, allowing a wide variety of anglers to fish for their favorite fish to catch.

“There are some leagues, such as the Brainerd Area League, which are bass only. We are more in walleye country and a lot of panfish in Otter Tail County. We made the decision in the first year to be multi-species,” Anderson said. “It’s all based on length. You catch a 14-inch crappie that will get you the same points as a 26-inch walleye. It balances the playing field and our boat captains are more apt to take kids out if they can fish for what they like to fish. Not everyone likes to catch bass. That levels the playing field.”

Fergus Falls captured the championship in 2019. Fergus Falls won the event with all 15 fish being bass while fishing on Ottertail Lake, which is predominantly a walleye lake.

Anderson said each team should reach out to their team managers. Some schools held registration before schools were shut down due to the pandemic.

The fee remains $45 for the league, $20 of the fee goes to the league to cover permits, fees and awards. The other $25 covers liability insurance, which is needed for every angler.

For more information on the Wadena-Deer Creek fishing team, email Gallant at ngallant@wdc2155.k12.mn.us