MEREDITH — The 36th annual Great Rotary Ice Fishing Derby opens today with ticket sales expected to top the 5,000 mark according to Craig Wiggin, 2105 Derby chairman.
''We've got great weather and great ice for the weekend,'' says Wiggin, Belknap County sheriff, who says that there are between 12 and 18 inches of ice on Meredith Bay and that hundreds of fishermen are already set up with bobhouses at many locations across the Lakes Region.
He said that the derby's new prize structure of cash prizes, now in its third year, as well as the elimination of tagged rainbow trout as the only fish eligible for the grand prize, has opened up the derby to more competition and also taken the pressure off Meredith Bay and Lake Winnipesaukee from ice fishermen.
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.
''It gives everyone a better shot at 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.'' says Wiggin.
That was the case last year when 11-year-old Brady King landed his winning 4.25-pound, 25 1/2-inch pickerel in Bear Camp Pond in Sandwich, a shallow 145-acre pond not far from King's home which has an average depth of only nine feet and is located about a half mile from Rte. 25 in East Sandwich.
Wiggin said that Governor Maggie Hassan, who has been a strong supporter of the Derby in the past, will be present at the awards ceremony which will be held at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Ice fishermen were setting up Friday on Meredith Bay and getting ready for the weekend, which is a major social event for those taking part.
Brian Martin of Center Harbor and Jon Malek of Meredith, both of whom are bartenders at Guiseppe's Pizzeria Ristorante in Meredith, had set up their bobhouse ''The Place to Be'' some time ago, along with Jerry LeMien, who runs a Center Harbor excavation business.
''We've got our propane stove going and it's up to 55 degrees in the bobhouse,'' said Martin, who said that other friends have set up their bobhouses in a semi-circle near his and that there is a large meatal fire pit which is used by all in the group, as well as a porta-potty which eliminates trips back to those set up near Derby headquarters in Prescott Park.
''Last weekend during the Pond Hockey tournament we had 13 people in the bob house,'' said LeMien.
Martin said that he likes the derby much better with its new format and the fact that fish from all water bodies in the state are now eligible.''
''There's not as much congestion here as there used to be,'' he says.
He says that neither he or his fishing partners have ever won a prize in the derby, even though though they've been fishing it for over 20 years.
''We've yet to win but I've got the feeling I'm due,'' says Martin.
If he doesn't, he's still eligible in the hourly drawings for hundreds of dollars in cash prizes throughout the weekend for all derby ticket holders, whether they fish or not.
The two-day ice fishing competition is one of the top fund-raising events in the state, enabling the Meredith Rotary Club to donate a total of more than $1.5 million back into the community for charitable projects, area improvements, scholarships, and families in need over the last 35 years.
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Connecticut ice fishermen Frank Balantic, seated, and Jeff Parker, Frank Balantic Jr., and Kyle Barth, arrived at Meredith Bay late Friday morning and are trying to take home a prize in the 36th annual Great Rotary Fishing Derby which gets underway today. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)
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Ice fishermen Brian Martin of Center Harbor, Jon Malek of Meredith and Jerry LeMien of Center Harbor have set up a bobhouse on Meredith Bay for the winter and are looking forward to the 36th annual Great Rotary Fishing Derby which gets underway today. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)
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