Dan Desmarais lets out a cheer after being declared the winner of the grand prize – $15,000 – in the 40th Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby on Sunday. (Alan MacRae for The Laconia Daily Sun)

MEREDITH — Dan Desmarais, the man who won the grand prize in the 40th Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby this past weekend, only caught one fish the whole derby. But it was a big one.

When he pulled a 3.63-pound rainbow trout through the ice on Saturday morning, “I was jumping and dancing around like a little kid on Christmas opening their favorite present,” Desmarais, a Milford resident, said on Monday.

Desmarais usually fishes with buddies in Center Harbor. But this year he decided to try a new spot he discovered on Alton Bay, where he had pulled up a few good-sized fish earlier this winter. “I decided to mix it up,” he said.

It paid off, to the tune of $15,000. That money will come in handy for Desmarais who, at 26, is between jobs at the moment. He said he might splurge on a couple of new fishing tools, but will reserve the rest for more practical purposes.

“I don’t plan on blowing the whole thing on a boat or something,” he said.

He knew it was a big fish when he pulled it in, so he wasn’t surprised that it was the biggest fish on the board when he brought it to the derby headquarters on Saturday. He had to endure a lot of anguish and suspense before he knew whether the fish would bring him any prize money, though.

Desmarais, a lifelong resident of Milford, said he started fishing in the derby as a child.

“From the time I was 3 until the time I was 13, I went every year,” he said. Teenage pursuit intervened for his high school and then college years, but he returned to the derby last year.

Despite all of those years fishing in the derby, Desmarais had never had a fish on the board, so he was excited and nervous to be in the running for some prize money.

Once he got back to his fishing spot, he didn’t have anything else to do but be nervous.

“I was chomping at the bit all day Saturday,” he said. “That was the only fish I caught all weekend – the only bite I got all weekend.”

He was compulsively checking his phone for updates to see if someone had brought in a bigger rainbow. By the end of the day on Saturday, he knew that he was guaranteed $500 for that day’s biggest fish of that species. On Sunday, he showed up at the derby headquarters for the drawing for the grand prize. The $15,000 goes to one of the seven anglers, drawn at random, who caught the biggest fish among the seven species listed in the derby rules.

Desmarais’s fish was still on the board as the biggest rainbow of the weekend when he approached the headquarters on Sunday afternoon, minutes before the final weigh-in. When he got there, he saw a fisherman standing at the back of the weigh-in line with a big rainbow in a bucket. It looked heavy, he thought to himself, but he said he had several “nerve-wracking” minutes to wait before he learned that the man’s rainbow was 3.45 pounds and he was still in the running for the grand prize.

“I was on my toes, for sure,” he said.

One for the books

David Reid, of the Meredith Rotary Club, said ticket sales were strong for the 40th derby. Final figures weren’t yet available Monday afternoon, but he said it was likely that the final would easily exceed the 5,000-ticket mark, making it one of the most successful derbies.

“The weekend went great, considering what the wind was like on Saturday,” Reid said.

Not counting this year’s proceeds, the club has raised more than $2-million over the years, which is given back to the community in order to support efforts such as scholarships, municipal projects, student exchange programs and fish stocking.

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