Thousands angling for good catches — and prizes — in Lakes Region fishing derbyBy BEA LEWIS
Union Leader Correspondent February 07. 2018 12:52PM
Organizers of this weekend’s 39th annual Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby say Mother Nature has played her part.
“We believe this is the best ice in more than 10 years. Squam Lake has 24 inches of ice, and so does Lake Waukewan,” Donna Ulbricht, publicity coordinator for the event, said before this week’s storm had even hit. “The coves and bays on Lake Winnipesaukee also have lots of ice, but we warn everyone who goes out on the ice to test it. Do not go alone. Be safe!”
The fishing derby draws upward of 10,000 for the winter event, and includes any state of New Hampshire public water, according to the rotary club’s fact sheet.
Over the course of derby weekend, the ice on Meredith Bay becomes a small town, dotted with bob houses both elaborate and simple, providing fishermen with refuge from the cold and in some cases, all the comforts of home.
Some more ardent outdoorsmen, dressed to withstand the cold, eschew a fixed shelter, preferring to tend their tip-ups from the open ice. The village of bob houses are intermixed with snowmobiles and ATVs, and parents pulling toddlers on sleds.
“On a sunny day, if the wind is not blowing, the view from the lake is just stunning,” said the derby’s chairman Don Trudeau.
This winter’s event will take place Saturday and Sunday. While ardent anglers hope for cloudy conditions, which make the fish more prone to bite, a blue-sky day attracts hundreds of spectators and their families who are looking to enjoy the great outdoors even if they don’t wet a line.
Entrepreneurs take advantage of the crowds, offering up everything from premium cigars to warm apple crisp.
The event is the Meredith Rotary Club’s largest fundraiser, and since the first derby was held in 1979, the organization has donated more than $2 million to support a variety of public projects in area communities and scholarships for traditional and nontraditional students.
In 2017, the Meredith Rotary Club purchased and installed a “turbidity curtain” between the boat ramp in Hesky Park and the public docks. This addition enables the bubbler system around the municipal docks to protect them from ice damage, while allowing water closer to the ramp to freeze. This has helped tremendously in creating strong, solid ice, allowing fishermen to move their bob houses and equipment onto the ice safely, Ulbricht said.
Trudeau said 30 to 40 fishing shanties of every size, shape and color have already sprung up on Meredith Bay, and another 10 to 20 are on neighboring Center Harbor Bay as anglers stake out prime spots.
Other derby participants head to their own favorite fishing spots on the 28-mile-long lake stretching from Wolfeboro to Alton Bay. All are bent on landing a heavyweight fish and a chance at winning a portion of $13,000 in cash prizes.
“It’s just a great family event with a real party atmosphere. The kids get to run around, the dogs play and everyone just has a great time,” said Trudeau.
Online ticket sales for the derby were 10 percent ahead of last year, Trudeau added.
“There is a tremendous amount of ice out there,” he said. “It’s great. But different areas can have different conditions, and people need to check it to make sure there is enough to carry you and your family.”
The three lucky anglers landing the largest lunkers will receive cash awards of $15,000, $5,000 and $3,000, respectively. But landlubbers also have a chance at winning some major prizes if they buy a $40 derby ticket, including a Disney Dream Vacation for four. A total of more than $50,000 in prizes will be awarded during the two-day event.
There is lunch in the offering with each registration, as ticket buyers will be given a $10 dining certificate good at any T-Bones and Cactus Jack’s.
There will be 14 Derby ticket stub cash prize drawings on Saturday for $100 each and 32 Derby stub cash prize drawings on Sunday, also for $100 each. Drawings will start on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 8 a.m., and will be held approximately every 15 minutes.
Two grand cash drawings, each for $5,000, will take place Saturday at 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, at 3:30 p.m. at derby headquarters. All winning tickets can be re-entered in the drawing for the Disney trip.
In addition, on Saturday there will be a free kid’s fishing clinic for anglers under age 16. Members of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department will offer the program on the hour, starting at 10 a.m. and continuing until 3 p.m.
Derby headquarters at Hesky Park overlooking Meredith Bay is home to the official weigh-in station. The heaviest of various species categories will be hung on the leader board to be admired by the crowds and watched anxiously by anglers who hope a bigger entry doesn’t bump them out of the running.
Fish caught during the derby that remain unclaimed at the end of the weekend are given to the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness and used to feed their captive raptors and otters.
“We couldn’t do all the things that we do without the money raised during the derby,” Trudeau said.
Among the service club’s many projects is the renovation of Hesky Park, and most recently a summer time cleanup of Meredith Bay. Through derby proceeds, the Rotary supports the Food Pantry, Senior Center, New Hampshire Veterans Home, Visiting Nurse Association and New Hampshire Humane Society, and annually hosts a free Senior Christmas dinner for 300 local residents.
Additionally, the club supports international relief funds including Pure Water for the World and Shelterbox.
For more information about the Great Meredith Ice Fishing Derby, visit meredithrotary.org.