Published Date Written by Roger AmsdenMEREDITH — The 34th annual Great Rotary Fishing Derby opens today with a new set of rules and a cash-only prize structure and derby officials hoping that there will be a good turnout despite a widely heralded winter storm sweeping across New England.
''It was looking good until Wednesday when we got reports that there was a major storm expected for the first part of the weekend. It wasn't feasible to cancel on such short notice, so we decided to go ahead with it and hope for the best,'' said Jim Nagle, 2013 Derby chairman.
He said that the response to the new prize structure, which eliminates tagged rainbow trout as the only fish which qualify for major prizes, has been very positive.
Now fishermen who catch the largest white perch, yellow perch, cusk, pickerel, black crappie, lake trout, and rainbow trout all have an equal chance at the top prizes. The fishermen who land the largest fish from each of the seven categories on Saturday and Sunday will qualify for a drawing on Sunday, at which the three top prizes, $15,000 for first, $5,000 for second and $3,000 for third prize, will be awarded.
''A lot of fishermen have told me that they really like it because it enables them to fish the way they normally do and not have to change their style. If they usually fish for black crappie they can continue to do that and still be eligible for the top prize. And, because they can fish in any body of water in the state open to the public, they can fish closer to home or in the places where they've had good luck in the past. It also reduces the fishing pressure on Lake Winnipesaukee'' said Nagle.
He said that the change to cash only prizes is also popular. ''The winners of the ATV prizes the last couple of years have all sold their prizes. We decided that it would be better to give them money and let them make their own decision,'' said Nagle.
A trio of fishermen who were on the ice in Meredith Bay Friday morning said they thought that the rules change was a good thing.
''I like it this way. Now you can win with any fish,'' said Todd Stevens of Gilford, who had just landed a deformed lake trout which at some point had been snagged by a fishing line which had wrapped around its' body so that it had a humpback look.
''That happens a lot. The fish grows that way until the line breaks,'' said Stevens, who was told by his fishing partner Rodney Allen of Gilford that the trout was 19 inches long and that if it had been landed Saturday would have qualified for entry in the derby.
Harley Winchester of Merrimack said that he really likes the rules change. ''Now people from anywhere in the state can take part in the derby while fishing close to home. It's a great event and it lets more people take part what has become a real tradition for ice fishermen''
With fish from any public waterbody in the state now eligible for prizes Derby officials are expected to be keeping a close eye on entries to make certain they qualify.
Concerns over the possibility of cheating were raised by what happened on the last day of the 2012 derby, when two large untagged rainbow trout were weighed in just before the close of entries and took the top two spots for the day.
Fish and Game biologist Don Miller, who was at the weigh-in station, said that he told Derby officials that the fish were a different strain of rainbow trout than that stocked by the state.
''I'd never seen anything like these fish and thought that they must have been taken from a stocked pond,'' said Miller.
Jim Wallace of the Meredith Rotary Club said the fish had a copper color, which he attributed to the ''pellet food'' which they were most likely fed. He said that many of the other fishermen near the leader board commented on the unusual color and size of the fish.
''We gave them the prize money, but cancelled the checks the next day after we found out from Fish and Game that the fish most likely came from a private pond in Kingston. Fish and Game told us that an officer had been sent to investigate at a private pond there that was closed to the public and found that there were signs that someone had fished through the ice.'' said Wallace.
Rodney Allen and Todd Stevens, both from Gilford, were ice fishing on Meredith Bay Friday along with their friend Harley Winchester, inside the tent, of Merrimack, in anticipation of the 34th Annual Great Rotary Fishing Derby which opens today. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)