By Brian Mozey
St. Paul — The North American Ice Fishing Circuit (NAIFC) has suspended its 2023 season, effective Jan. 18, according to the NAIFC Facebook page. The organization made the announcement via a Facebook post on Monday, Jan. 23.
On Thursday, Jan. 19, Mike Howe, NAIFC’s director, wrote a longer post on the NAIFC Facebook page explaining in more depth the reasons why the group had suspended its season.
Howe cited economics, cheating allegations, and demonstrations of poor sportsmanship that led to a tough decision of suspending the 2023 season.
Howe took over the circuit in September of 2021, and he said there wasn’t much for capital assets. He also added that the COVID pandemic hurt the circuit financially because participation was lower than ever.
The tournament series attracted anglers from across the ice belt, and past host destinations have included Okoboji, Iowa, Devils Lake, N.D., and Hebgen Lake, Mont.
“In 2022 average attendance was 24 teams, nowhere near the attendance estimates that were once accurate and attainable,” Howe said via the Facebook post. “The final qualifier saw nine teams enter. At Okoboji last weekend, with one of the best opportunities to go to one location, fish two separate events, and have two opportunities to qualify for the National Championship, 19 teams signed up for both events, and five chose one day or another.”
Last weekend, the NAIFC was going to host a tournament in Vergas, Minn., but Howe said only seven teams were signed up with 24 hours before entry deadline. Due to the few number of teams, Howe decided to end the season’s circuit.
“This circuit can simply not continue economically, nor can it survive the continuing turmoil,” Howe said on the post. “Not a chance. I also in no way wanted to see the host get thrown in the middle of all of it.”
Howe added that the NAIFC refunded all the teams that entered the Minnesota tournament as well as the two remaining events in February. The circuit also will return the prizes and money from sponsorships for the remaining events.
“I sincerely wish to thank all the people who expressed their support at the beginning and are still doing the same even today,” Howe said in the post. “I gave it everything I had, and everything I could. I regret that I couldn’t make it happen.”
It’s unclear if the circuit will return next winter. A post on the NAIFC website said, “NAIFC suspends operations for rest of 2023 season and beyond.”
Outdoor News attempted to contact Howe for more details, but was unable to reach him.