Fishing derby draws thousands to big lakeBy JOHN KOZIOL
Sunday News Correspondent February 10. 2018 9:04PM
MEREDITH - Thousands of fishermen descended on Lake Winnipesaukee at 6 a.m. Saturday, kicking off the 39th annual Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby.
The lake was covered with what some are describing as the best ice in a long time.
Poor ice in 2017 made for sloppy fishing and led to tragedy when three snowmobilers hit open water and died on the first day of the derby.
Cory Stillings, 38, of Meredith, posted the first fish on the derby's leader board Saturday, a trio of white perch.
A Meredith native, Stillings has competed in the derby "ever since I was three or four, a long time."
While he's never won the derby, Stillings has placed in it and hoped to catch more and bigger fish before the event wraps up Sunday afternoon.
"The conditions are incredible," he said. "There's so much ice out there. Whoever didn't show up is going to regret it."
He added that safety comes first.
"I test all the ice before I go on it," he said. The ice where he fished on Meredith Bay Saturday was 22 inches thick, whereas last year, "it was really sketchy," he said.
Don Trudeau, who chairs the Meredith Rotary's Ice Fishing Derby committee, said the event, which is among the oldest and largest of its kind in New Hampshire and New England, is the club's biggest annual fundraiser.
The club sold 4,600 tickets in 2017 - which allow competitors a chance to win $50,000 in prizes, including a top prize of $15,000 cash - and for 2018, Trudeau is cautiously optimistic that the number could rise to "forty-six hundred and one."
Trudeau emphasized ice safety after last year's tragedy, when three snowmobilers went through the ice near Long Island in Moultonborough, resulting in the deaths of Mark O'Connell, 62, and David Crosier, 67, both of Westborough, Mass.
Some four hours later, while riding with his father Arnaud, Arthur Remy, 15, of Mamoroneck, N.Y., went into the water in Alton and died.
"Every year, we and Fish and Game emphasize for people to check the ice they're on," Trudeau said. He thinks derby participants are even more mindful of ice safety this year.
Fish and Game Capt. Dave Walsh said that on Lake Winnipesaukee "it's really good ice."
But, he added, "The big message we'd like to send is that it's a big lake and people who are unfamiliar with the area think they can just go out and cover the whole lake. But inevitably, there may be parts of the lake that may or may not be safe."