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A Winter Trip Around Winnipesaukee

Winni Broads from Route 11The 2000 Winnipesaukee Great Rotary Fishing Derby

by Michael Edwards

Additional Photos by Mike Christy
(Hey! I froze too)

2005 Article | 2004 Article
2005 Winners | 2004 Winners | 2003 Winners
Link to Meredith Rotary Club

The 2000 "Winni Ice Derby" as many of us call it was another great success. For 21 years the Rotary Club of Meredith, NH has sponsored the derby (officially known as the Great Rotary Fishing Derby). With hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to charities and tens of thousands of dollars put back in helping the NH Fish & Game Department with stocking programs of the lakes region, this event has been a successful family tradition for the past 21 years.

The derby is just another great way that anglers and their families can spend quality time enjoying outdoor activities while supporting a vast number of worthwhile causes. Anglers put forth $20 per person. In return they helped all the Rotary Club causes and gained a chance to win part of more than $50,000 in cash and prizes. Over 8,000 anglers registered for the 2000 Winni Derby.

Lakes throughout New Hampshire are open and anglers staked out their best locations weeks before the derby.  Going into the event expectations were high as many anglers reported catching numbers of fish during the weekends preceding the derby. With gear and bait ready and fishing spots chosen the derby was ready to begin.

The Start of the Derby
Meredith NH looked like a winter carnival the morning of the first day of the derby....and it would remain this way for the entire weekend. Hundreds of anglers were driving out onto the lake past the derby headquarters; hundreds of snowmobilers were Meredith Bay Boat Launchbuzzing about; and hundreds of spectators were watching with interest; while vendors were selling food and merchandise. Everyone was busy and the excitement was tangible. In every bay of the lake this same series of events was occurring. The lakes region was alive in the dead of winter.

Looking down from high above the lake on Route 11, a wonderful scene of family activity and New Hampshire tradition was visible across the lake. Like little towns, groups of ice shanties spread across Winni's 36,000 acres. And for this year's derby Mother Nature blessed the beautiful scene with bright sun that sparkled off the many ice shanty towns. With all of New Hampshire's lake region beauty ahead of us, Mike Christy and I set out to cover the 2000 ice derby.

Lapham and Shaw FamiliesMeredith Bay
Our first trip onto the ice was within Meredith bay. As we headed down the eastern shore of the bay we came upon the families of Bev Lapham and Jeff Shaw. They reported very slow fishing but the families were having a lot of fun playing some nerf football.  We spoke for a while and learned that they were beginning to pack up so that they could attend soccer practice. With a picture and a quick goodbye we continued on our way down the bay.

As we headed around Meredith bay we found a number of anglers fishing from shallow sand all the way to 30 foot depths with shiner rigged tipups in search of rainbow trout. Yet, all were quick to say how disappointed they were in the lack of activity. A number of nice salmon were reported, but no rainbow or lake trout.

Dan and Eric Brooks, Paul AngersNear the end of our trip in the bay we came upon a most unusual looking bob-house on the west shoreline of the bay. We spoke to the group of Dan Brooks, Eric Brooks, Paul Angers and Vic Moukunas (all of Worcester, MA). We found that the aluminum looking ice house was actually made of insulation. It was claimed that it was a warm house, and with the 200,000btu heater that was inside of the 4x4x7 foot structure who is to argue? We enjoyed some great conversation and then continued along our way.

As we came back into the most active part of the bay, close to the town docks, we found Phil who was doing very well with cusk. He was fishing fixed-line cusk traps in 20 feet of water with cut bait (shiners) rigged on 1/0 hooks. Phil is an 'old-timer' to the Winni Derby and has been fishing it since its beginning. When cusk fishing, Phil focuses on an area starting at shore out to a depth of 20 feet. He periodically walks over to each cusk trap and slowly pulls the slack out of the line. If he feels resistance he gives a soft tug to set the hook and then gradually pulls in the cusk to the hole. He had a number of cusk to show for today's efforts.

Phil with Mike EdwardsAfter leaving Phil we headed back up the bay and grabbed some food near the derby headquarters. Then we headed to the truck and packed up and headed to Center Harbor. Once at Center Harbor we loaded our gear onto the four wheeler and went out into the bay.

Center Harbor
We stopped near Halfmile Island and heard from anglers that the rainbow trout fishing had been good a few days earlier, but was slow during the Winni Derby. A few rainbows were caught on shiner rigged tipups but most anglers were not successful. So along we went on our way.

Angela WakefieldOur search for successful anglers brought us all the way to Black Cat Island. We found Angela Wakefield and party fishing 20 foot deep humps in the middle of the bay near even with Black Cat Island. The fine lake trout held by Angela was caught in 20 feet of water on a shiner rigged tipup. With a quick picture we said goodbye and headed out further into the Harbor. We made our way out to Norway Point without finding any successful anglers. So we turned back up the harbor and headed to Beaver Island.

Upon nearing Beaver Island we saw a number of bob-houses stationed over some known humps and ridges. Once we reached these ridges just off Beaver Island (ridges that I personally fish for smallies during the summer months) we found a large group of anglers that were enjoying some level of success for lake trout while also catching a number of salmon. The lake trout were once again being caught on humps in about 20 feet of water on shiner rigged tipups. But, more importantly this group was very well stocked with food. Thanks to Doug & Keith Johnson, Phil Vallee, Bruce & Frank Eaton, and the rest of the group, we enjoyed Alaskan halibut, fresh lake trout, roasted lamb, and marinated venison. What a feast!

The Halibut BunchAs the sun began to approach the tops of the trees we said goodbye and rolled ourselves onto the four-wheeler. As we headed back up Center Harbor to the truck the sun began to set and the lights were seen in bob-houses where many anglers would spend the night. With the shadows growing longer we loaded the truck and headed home.

Day Two - Alton Bay
By 9:00am I was back on Winni looking for successful anglers. I wandered out onto the ice in Alton Bay. Near Sandy Point I heard from some anglers that the lake trout fishing was good on Saturday by jigging hair jigs but slow today. A number of fine salmon were reported to have been caught. With this news penned into my notes I headed further out in the bay. In Loon Cove I found Casey Smith and his party who reported a slow day. Casey SmithYet, Casey was proud to show a Lake Trout and Cusk that had been caught that morning by his party. I enjoyed some good stories of past derbies before saying goodbye and heading along my way again. I visited some anglers near Brookhurst who also reported a slow day, but also reported that a few nice salmon were caught. I said goodbye and headed towards Littlemark Island.

Halfway out to Littlemark Island I decided to turn back. This day had one major difference from the day before; this day had frigidly cold winds blowing from the North that made the trip to Littlemark Island virtually impossible to reach on an open vehicle such as my four-wheeler. It wasn't long before my face felt like an iceberg, so I decided to cut across the bay to the eastern shore and head back down the bay. I came upon some anglers that were readers of New England Sportsman Network. They were getting flags on their shiner rigged tip ups but no fish. They are from the Alton area and said that typically this 20 foot deep sand flat is good for rainbow trout. But the weekend of the derby did not produce them. I stayed for a few minutes chatting about the great fishing opportunities in New Hampshire and then headed along my way back into the bay.

Bill is second in from the rightAbout two miles further into the bay (about even with Sandy Point....on the eastern shore) I came upon another large group of anglers. Although I was a little late to get a picture of the fish, I found "Silver" Bill Shurtleff and his party. Bill had just returned from the Winni Derby headquarters. He had brought in a tagged rainbow trout that ended up earning him second place for Sunday's untagged rainbow with a 2.91lb 18 inch trout. The fish was caught in approximately 10 feet of water on a shiner rigged tipup just off the shoreline. A #10 hook was used and a small Arkansas shiner was rigged. The lake bottom was sand with scattered rocks. After spending some time talking and sharing stories I once again continued along my way back into the bay.

As I headed back to the truck I thought of how friendly anglers are. I had walked up to dozens of groups of people who I didn't know and was quickly accepted and spent time talking about everything from angling to work and everything in between. Upon reaching the truck I loaded the four wheeler and headed for Minge and Smalls Cove.

Minge/Smalls Coves
Once I reached the outlet of Minge Cove, I parked the vehicle and walked onto the ice. A quick walk and some chatting with anglers found that fishing was tough here also. A walk near Sleepers Island found that a fair number of lake trout were being caught on the long points. Unfortunately the camera decided not to work as it had all but frozen on my trips in Alton Bay. So with no pictures to show, I headed back to the truck and continued along my way to Ellacoya.

Carl PlumberEllacoya
Once at Ellacoya I quickly checked to see if the trip had thawed out the camera. Luckily it had.  So, I unloaded the four wheeler and once again headed out onto the ice. Here I found a number of successful anglers. The humps and ridges far off shore were producing a number of lake trout and some cusk. Carl Plummer of NH showed a fine lake trout that was caught on a shiner. He was picking up his cusk traps and reported moderate success with the cusk. After a quick picture I headed out into the broads braving the wind. At a point which I can't disclose (the anglers jokingly said that I should not report the location), I came upon a number of bob-houses owned by a number of family members and friends. Tim Shea and Andrea Ballam posed for a quick picture outside their bob-house. Tim had caught the 3rd place lake trout for Saturday. The fish was caught off a hump in 20 feet with very deep water all around (70+ feet). The fish could not resist a shiner rigged tip up. Tim Shea and Andrea BallamThe hook used was a #10.

I spoke with the members of another nearby house. Jim Mounsey reported that he had fished every Winni Derby and that their current location was one of many that they fish each year. As I spoke with him a line within the bob-house that lead down into an ice hole started to play out. When the hook was set there was no fish. So after re-rigging the hook and setting it back in the water we continued our conversation. Within minutes the line was on the move again. This time the hook set was met by resistance and soon a nice 2-3 pound lake trout was brought through the ice. Since Jim already had fish on ice and as this one did not appear to be a derby winner it was quickly released back into the lake. Jim's setup was rather unique to me. Above the hole was a nail driven horizontally into the bunk bed. On the nail was a simple spool of line just like you would buy it from the store. The line from this spool was tied to a #10 hook on which there was rigged a small shiner. This shiner was then sent to the lake bottom. The friction of the spool on the nail and the small size of the shiner kept the line from being drawn out by the bait fish. Yet, when a larger fish took the shiner the line would play out effortlessly. This allowed a trout to take line without feeling any resistance. This appeared to be a trick that allowed this group of anglers to catch fish that other anglers had missed due to the resistance necessary to release the flag on the tipup that many other anglers were using.

Melanie RobinsonJim then took me over to see Melanie Robinson who had her own bob-house that she had built with her father. Rumor has it that Melanie (25 years old) has to drag her husband out to go fishing. Melanie has been fishing the Winni Derby for almost her entire lifetime. While I was visiting, Melanie had a flag on a tipup but once again this weekend's finicky fish left the hook empty. After resetting the tipup in the freezing cold wind Melanie stopped fishing long enough for me to take a picture of her with her bob-house.  Her bob-house was by far the nicest house inside of all the houses I had been in.  It was well planned with four bunk beds and a very nice propane funace.   It was complete with wall to wall carpeting and fish curtains.  I will be looking up Melanie and her dad when it comes time to plan my bob-house.

Once again I said some good-byes and headed on my way. I stopped to talk with some anglers near the beach at Ellacoya and they said the fishing along the shore had been slow. I jokingly said that they should pick up their tipups and head for some of the humps out in the deeper water. With some chuckles between us I said goodbye and left to load the four wheeler once again on the truck. I then headed to the Winni Derby headquarters for the winner announcements as it was nearing the end of the derby.

Terry Davidson and his sonFinal Awards Ceremony
Terry Davidson of Auburn NH won the big boat with the largest tagged trout for the weekend. He caught the trout in 4 feet of water on a sandy area on Lake Massabesic. The fish was caught on Saturday at 11:00am on a tipup with a red Berkley powerbait nugget rigged on a #10 hook. The line was spider wire. Terry credits his success to a lot of proactive fishing during the weeks leading up to the derby.

The smaller boat was won by Bob Jones of Merrimack NH. His tagged trout was caught at 1:30pm on Sunday in Lake Waukewan. On Saturday they had a number of flags in 20 feet of water yet caught none of the fish. So on Sunday they returned to the same point and set all of their tipups in 20 feet of water. Throughout the day they had 8 flags and landed two fish, one of which had a tag and eventually won the boat. The hook used was a #10 and the bait was a live smelt.

Bob JonesAfter handing out thousands of dollars in prizes, and having collected tens of thousands of dollars for charities, the 2000 Great Rotary Fishing Derby came to a close. What a wonderful weekend and what a wonderful bunch of people. Many thanks to the Meredith Rotary Club for running such a great family event for more than 20 years.

Winners List

More pictures will be put up over the next couple of nights.


A special thanks to Adventure Motor Sports in Hampton, NH who provided us with a camouflaged Yamaha Big Bear 4x4 four-wheeler for use during the derby. To test drive the new Yamaha 4x4 four-wheelers give Adventure Motor Sports a call at (603)926-9494 (tell 'em you saw them on NESportsman)....remember that by visiting our sponsors you help keep NESportsman FREE!.



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