By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The 34th annual Winni Derby, which was scheduled for May 13 to 15 this year, has been canceled, but is expected to resume next year according to Kristen Welch, president of the Laconia Rotary Club, which took over sponsorship of the event in 2011.
Welch said that the decision not to hold the derby this year was made by the club's board of directors last Thursday after approval from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to suspend the event for one year because of extenuating circumstances.
She said that the club is looking for partners to help it with organizing and staffing the event in 2017.
"We regret having to make this decision," Welch said in a press release issued last Friday.
"Laconia Rotary is aware there are many anglers and their families who participate in the tradition of the Winni Derby each year, and we apologize for any inconvenience. We are grateful for the support and enthusiasm we have received for this event, and appreciate all who have contributed to its past success."
The derby, which in recent years has awarded nearly $50,000 in cash prizes, was started in 1983 by the late Rick Davis and was originally conceived of as a way to reduce the population of undersized salmon in Lake Winnipesaukee. Over the years it appeared to have achieved its goal and attracted as many 2,800 entries in 2001. Two years later, the average size of the salmon landed in the derby was over six pounds, but by 2009 it had dropped to just over four pounds.
The derby was canceled by Davis in 2010 as a way of reducing the pressure on the lake's salmon population after a 2009 fall survey showed them smaller than in recent years, with nearly a third of the salmon suffering from hook wounds caused by catch-and-release fishing.
The Laconia Rotary Club, at that time led by Diane LaBrie, took over sponsorship in 2011, and within a few years changed the awards to cash rather than fishing boats, for the major categories, which included landlocked salmon, lake trout and a junior division.
Participation in the derby has dropped from the 2,800 level of 15 years ago to 1,100 last year, a decline from the 1,300 just two years ago.
Grand prize in last year's adult salmon division was $12,000, with the runner-up receiving $3,600. The grand prize for the Junior Salmon division last year was $3,000, with $1,500 awarded to the second-place finisher.
Grand prize in the Adult-Junior Trout division in 2015 was $5,000, with the runner-up earning $1,200.