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