Ice derby begins

Biologist says conditions are right for some big catches this yar at Rotary fishing contest

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

MEREDITH — This weekend’s Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby could see many more large fish than usual pulled through the ice, says John Viar, fisheries biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

Viar says that thicker-than-normal ice conditions, especially on Lake Winnipesaukee, will allow knowledgeable ice fishermen to set up on ice above offshore reefs where larger lake trout and cusk are more likely to congregate.

“We haven’t had ice conditions this good for several years,’’ said Viar, adding that the warm weather predicted for the weekend could also see more fishermen taking part.

“It’s not going to be 30-below-zero wind chill like we’ve had some years,” said Viar.

The U.S. Weather Bureau forecast for the weekend predicts highs in the 40s on Saturday and temperatures in the high 30s on Sunday, with rain likely.

The 39th annual derby, sponsored by the Meredith Rotary Club, offers more than $50,000 in cash prizes as well as a vacation for four at Disney World. It annually attracts around 5,000 entries and has raised more than $1.5 million for the club’s charitable activities.

Since it switched to a new format several years ago, those who land the largest fish of each of the seven eligible species (white perch, yellow perch, cusk, lake trout, pickerel, black crappie, or rainbow trout) are entered in the $15,000 grand prize drawing.

The winning fish can be caught in any fresh water open to the public. Derby organizers say this results in less pressure to fish only on Lake Winnipesaukee, and less impact on the off-season salmon, which cannot be taken through the ice.

Until the change five years ago, the only fish eligible for the top prize were tagged rainbow trout, which the club had purchased from a commercial hatchery and were stocked in several lakes by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

Viar said the change, which allows those fishermen who like to catch other species to be eligible for the big prize, has been a good thing for the state’s fisheries by promoting diversity.

He said he has been involved with the derby for 20 years and he has seen many fishermen bring in large yellow perch and cusk year after year, due to their knowledge of the best fishing spots for those species.

Only four of the eligible species are actually native to New Hampshire: lake trout, yellow perch, pickerel and cusk.

White perch, black crappie and rainbow trout are non-native, Viar said. The only species stocked by the department are the rainbow trout.

Viar said the yellow perch in Lake Winnipesaukee grow to astronomical size due to the presence of many smelt in the lake, compared to smaller bodies of water.

The three top prizes will be awarded to the anglers with a valid derby ticket whose names are drawn Sunday. First prize is $15,000, second prize is $5,000, and third prize is $3,000. Those who have the largest fish in each category on either Saturday or Sunday of derby weekend will be eligible.

The five heaviest fish in each category will be hung on the leader board on both Saturday and Sunday, for prizes of $250, $200, $150, $100, and $50, and the heaviest fish boarded in each category will be awarded $500 on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at derby headquarters in Hesky Park.

There will also be drawings for hundreds of dollars in cash prizes throughout the weekend for all derby ticket holders. People don’t need to fish in order to win and need only purchase a $40 derby ticket to be eligible.

For the full event information, see www.meredithrotary.com.