Derby officials: It's ON

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Art and Nunzi Napolitano, from Portland, Maine and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, set up their fishing holes on Lake Waukewan, where they found the ice was at least 12 inches thick. The father and son usually fish on Winnipesaukee, but sought better ice for this year. See tomorrow’s Daily Sun for more on the derby.
(Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)


MEREDITH — After being postponed from its original schedule earlier this month, the Meredith Rotary Club's annual ice fishing derby will be held this weekend, Feb. 27 and 28, club officials have confirmed.

Ice conditions on Lake Winnipesaukee, typically the most popular site for derby contestants, range from poor to unsafe. However, Rotarian Donna Ulbricht noted that the derby includes all public water surfaces in the state, and that careful and experienced ice fishermen should be able to find a place to fish.

Ulbricht said that despite recent rain, the forecast, especially for the night-time low temperatures, looked favorable. "The water on the ice from the rain is going to freeze up. But, you have to have good sense and test the ice," she cautioned.

– Adam Drapcho

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It's derby weekend

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With limited ice conditions at their usual spot over by Governor’s Island Mark Gere, Peter Linero and Paul Gere try their luck on Lake Waukewan, where the wind was giving them a few “false alarms” on their tip ups as they began fishing for the Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby.  (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)



MEREDITH — Meredith Bay might be looking more suitable for swimming than ice fishing, but there are plenty of places for contestants in the Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby, which is being held this weekend after it was postponed earlier this month. Donna Ulbricht, member of Meredith Rotary Club, noted that the derby includes all lakes and ponds in New Hampshire, and contestants might have to venture away from their usual fishing holes to compete in this year's derby.

At stake are several cash prizes. Anglers have the chance to take home prizes for the five heaviest fish caught each day in seven categories: black crappie, cusk, lake trout, pickerel, rainbow trout, yellow perch and white perch. The fish can be caught anywhere in the state, as long as they're brought to Derby Headquarters, on the shore of Meredith Bay, by 5 p.m. for the Saturday weigh-on, or 3 p.m. on Sunday. The biggest fish caught on each day, in each category, will claim awards of $50, for the fifth heaviest, up to $500 for the heaviest.

Fishermen who bring in the heaviest fish in each category over the course of the weekend will be eligible for the grand prize drawing. Of those seven fishermen, on will take home $3,000, one will be awarded $5,000, and the grand prize winner will end the weekend $15,000 richer.

While the casual fishermen have taken to social media to criticize the derby being held despite the warm winter, Ulbricht said the more serious sportsmen have a response: "Go ahead and stay home, leave the fishing and the prizes to us."

"They're setting up ice houses on Waukewan, it's like a little village there. There's plenty of good ice on Squam ... and parts of Winnipesaukee as well," she said. "This is a statewide event. You can fish any public water body ... There's lots of places where the sportsmen fishermen are all excited about the derby."

Harry Batchelder, a Meredith resident, plans to be fishing on Wicwas Lake, where he has spent most of the last 15 years of fishing derbies. He said conditions this year are "Shady – you've got to be more careful than normal."

"I don't know yet," said Matt Hibbert, also of Meredith, when asked on Thursday if he would be participating in the derby. Hibbert, who usually fishes on Winnipesaukee, about a mile off of Leavitt Beach. He has been a regular ice fisherman for the past 20 years, but hasn't been out yet this year.

On Waukewan, a few strides from the public boat launch, father and son Art and Nunzi Napolitano were firing up a 60-year-old auger to test the thickness of the ice. Art, from Portland, Maine, and Nunzi, from Cape Cod, have been coming to Gilford for the past three years, where Nunzi's brother Art Jr. lives and fishes near Governor's Island. They had to change course this year due to poor ice conditions, and learned from local fishermen that the rainbow trout are hitting.

"We were upset that it was postponed, vacations were planned around it. But, it'll do, we're here," said Nunzi.

At A.J.'s Tackle and Bait in Meredith, one of the places where fishermen could buy a ticket for the derby, owner Alan Nute said he got a flood of calls on Tuesday and Wednesday after it was determined that the derby would indeed be on. "Once people believed that it was going to happen, they started buying tickets," he said.

Nute's advice to ice fishermen is to choose a smaller body of water, find a place with thick, strong ice, and stay put.

"If you get out, stay where you are – where you know the ice is good," he said.

Ice conditions can change across a lake's surface, due to pressure ridges and flowing currents.

Beginner anglers are encouraged to visit the derby headquarters, especially on Saturday, when the state's Fish and Game Department will be leading a free ice fishing clinic, geared toward children. The clinic will be held every hour, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Hesky Park on the shore of Meredith Bay.

"They teach the kids how tip-ups work, what bait to use, how to be safe," said Ulbricht. "It's always a very popular event, the kids will get a goodie bag."

Alex Lopashanski, conservation officer with Fish and Game, said he was in attendance at a meeting the Rotary Club held on Monday, at which members decided to go ahead with the derby, despite thin ice at many of the traditional ice fishing spots on Winnipesaukee.

"The conditions out there are pretty poor," Lopashanski said about Lake Winnipesaukee. "But there are other lakes around the state where people can find relatively safe ice conditions."

When finding a place to ice fish, Lopashanski said fishermen should leave heavy vehicles and bob houses behind and go out slowly onto the ice, checking its strength, such as with a chisel, as they go. This isn't a time for inexperienced ice fishermen to take risks, he said.

"They shouldn't go out unless they have the experience and knowledge to operate safely on ice. Even then, experienced fishermen can find themselves falling through." Those that find a good place to drop a line have a great chance at hooking a keeper. Lopashanski said there's been less ice fishing pressure on local fish populations than he's ever seen. Personally, he said he was glad that the Meredith Rotary Club decided to go forward with the derby.

"We're looking forward to it, we just hope everybody has a safe experience," he said.

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Derby Headquarters in Meredith saw a brisk business with anglers registering for the derby. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)

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Prisoner transport rules were reviewed after Blanchette arrest


LACONIA — Sheriff Craig Wiggin said Tuesday that within a day of learning about former Deputy Sergeant Ernest "Justin" Blanchette alleged sexual assault of a female passenger he was transporting, he and his lieutenant reviewed the department's cruiser policy to see if they missed anything and if something in the existing policy should be changed.

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He said Blanchette was actually the person in charge of implementing the policy in his role as sergeant, and rather than missing something in the cruiser policy, he as the sheriff missed something in Blanchette. He said Blanchette passed background checks, psychological evaluations and a polygraph test.

"The things he is alleged to have engaged in, I never thought I would need a policy for," Wiggin said. He added that Blanchette apparently used his knowledge of department cruiser policies to "deceive and obfuscate" that same policy.

Blanchette, 36, faces nine separate counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault and one count of felonious sexual assault. One of his cases in alleged to have happened in an abandoned house in Bedford and he was indicted separately by a Hillsborugh grand jury. The balance are said to have occurred in various parts of Belknap County. All 10 are alleged to have happened during transports of prisoners.

He said one solution would to be to install cameras in every cruiser and body camera for all of the deputies, but cameras are expensive.

Wiggin went on to say that neither he nor his lieutenant had an "inkling" of the kind of behavior Blanchette is accused of.

"I don't know what happened and I would like an explanation," he said, adding Blanchette violated every personal trust he and his fellow co-workers had placed in him.

Blanchette is being held in a state correctional unit in the southern part of New Hampshire. As of yesterday, his trial for the single Hillsborough count is scheduled for late April.

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