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The 2004 Great Rotary Fishing Derby

by Michael Edwards

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2005 Article | 2000 Article
2005 Winners | 2004 Winners | 2003 Winners
Link to Meredith Rotary Club

For 25 years the Rotary Club of Meredith, NH has run the Great Rotary Ice Derby.   This very special event reached the quarter-of-a-century mark this year.  That in itself is a true testament to the Rotary Club. 

grderby20044.jpg (22845 bytes)There is second point that is equally impressive, if not more so.  Over the past 25 years the Rotary Club has been donating a major part of the proceeds to the communities around Winnipesaukee.  As of last year, the Club had donated an astonishing $1,010,792 back to its community.

Last, but certainly not least, the Club has run what is arguably one of the best ice fishing derbies in the nation.  Thousands of anglers participate each year fishing lakes, streams, rivers and ponds throughout the State of New Hampshire in pursuit of trophies for 2 straight days.  Radio stations broadcast results throughout the day and there is a dedicated phone number for finding the size and weight of the current large fish for each category throughout each day.  For two days, one can literally drive from the northern tip of the State to the southern edge and find people and families participating in the Great Rotary Ice Derby.  

This event has definitely been a successful New Hampshire tradition for the past 25 years.

grderby20042.JPG (21000 bytes)Headquarters
As usual, Meredith NH on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee served as the Derby headquarters.  The atmosphere was more like a winter carnival than an ice fishing derby...and it would remain this way for the entire weekend. There was the usual hustle and bustle of hundreds of anglers driving out onto the lake past the derby headquarters; hundreds of snowmobilers were buzzing about; and hundreds of spectators  watching with interest; while vendors were selling food and merchandise.

The Fishing
The weather on day one was perfect for a day on the ice - sunny skies, very light wind, and temps in the mid 30's.  It was also a good day of fishing.  Many anglers on the lake commented that the fishing was good (to great) on Saturday.  The standard fare of rainbows were being taken in the shallows over sand and lakers were being taken on humps.  White perch were running somewhere in between.   My trip on Winnipesaukee was hurried and I didn't get to spend as much time on Saturday as I had hoped.  I was determined to spend more time on Sunday.

Sunday started with gusty winds and bitterly cold temperatures.  As I walked out onto the big lake I wondered to myself aloud as to why I hadn't stayed to do interviews on Saturday.  My coffee cooled down within minutes to an ambient temperature of about 22 degrees Fahrenheit.  I should have known that a paper cup was not the container of choice on such a day.  I bundled up and was determined to talk to anglers.

On Alton Bay I ran into Steve Gardner who was catching an errant salmon hear and there but was not having the luck on rainbows that he had on Saturday.  Wind flags were becoming a problem as the morning sun rose higher and the wind picked up.  My digital camera too was feeling the effects of bitter cold and decided to rebel by not even turning on.  I thawed out my pen and began to interview Steve.  He had been having luck on shiner rigged tip-ups in sand with 4 to 10 feet of water depth on Saturday.   Those traps were not active on this day (Sunday).  His deeper traps were set in 40 to 50 feet of water with the bait about half way down.  The salmon were running the bay and would set off a flag every now and then.  Since salmon can not be caught during the winter, he had to release them without fully removing them from the water.   I quickly said thanks to Steve and decided it was time to head back to the truck to thaw out the camera and load everything up while deciding on a game plan that would allow me to get some more interviews without getting frost bite.  I was poorly prepared since I had expected Sunday to be as beautiful a day as Saturday.

grderby20043.JPG (26920 bytes)Next stop was Ellacoya.  I was hoping to see some folks on the broads who I had interviewed in the past.  Yet upon stepping out of the truck, it was very apparent that the wind on the broads was something that would have sent penguins heading south for warmer weather and I realized that I would not be able to visit every ice shanty in search of people I would recognize.  

I bundled up, stowed the camera in the warmest place I could find and decided to walk onto the ice to the nearest shanty....about 600 yards out onto the lake.  It was here that I met the hearty crew of Jim Bennet, John Salvage, Jody Radmazzo, Steve Bennet, and Donald Bennet.  They had caught 2 cusk and a 4lb salmon (again released at the hole).  All three fish were caught on live shiners in about 30 feet of water.   Ice fishermen are a great group.  Here I was walking across the frozen lake and approaching complete strangers.  They quickly said hello and shared the day's experiences with laughter and smiles.  That is what this event is all about.

I started to head to the next shanty when the wind started howling to near 30mph gusts.  It was coming straight down the lake from the northern part, gaining speed as it came down Meredith Bay and barreled past Welch Island spilling into the broads.  I decided that interviews at Ellacoya would have to wait until the 26th anniversary of the event for which I would dress in enough layers to survive an Alaskan night.

Upon reaching the truck at the Ellacoya launch ramp I decided I needed some coffee and a warm place to park myself and eat some lunch.

grderby20045.jpg (23624 bytes)Derby Headquarters
After lunch and after spending some time talking with friends, it was close enough to the Derby closing time of 3:30pm that I decided to head to the Derby headquarters trailer.  This was a great idea since there were a number of anglers rushing in to weigh fish.  A number of these anglers turned out to be big fish holders and the grand prize winner had been seen nervously walking around keeping an eye out for bigger Rainbow trout.  I quickly got to work finding the big fish holders and interviewing them to see what secrets they would divulge.  In true ice-fisherman fashion, they freely shared the facts and events that led to them landing some of the biggest fish of the derby.

grderby20046.jpg (18760 bytes)Grand Prize Winner
John Piragis was a very happy man on Sunday, February 8th, 2004 at 3:31pm.  It was precisely at that time that he knew he was going home with a $32,000 2004 GMC Sierra 4x4.

John's big, tagged rainbow trout was caught near Long Island in 14 feet of water.  He had a live smelt rigged on a tip-up.  The bottom was grassy and the bait was swimming just off the bottom.  This winning fish came out of the water early Sunday morning.  It was a 3.2lb 19.5inch tagged rainbow trout. 

John had spent Saturday with the snowmobile and auger plugging holes, fishing and looking for additional likely spots to catch rainbows.  On Sunday many of the holes drilled through the ice were in a shallow area that was out of the wind.  It was the decision to fish out of the wind that caused them to choose this particular spot of ice to drill a hole, and brought lady luck to visit in the form of a hungry trout.   The rest, as they say, is history.

grderby20047.jpg (28052 bytes)Now, in case you are thinking John looked too serious in the photo is the photo when he actually had the keys in his pocket.  Of course, John is the one with the smile from ear-to-ear and the very impressive Rainbow Trout in his hand.  If I had that truck, I would be smiling just a big.  Congratulations John on being this year's Great Rotary Ice Derby grand prize winner.

grderby20048.jpg (22109 bytes)2nd Place Tagged Rainbow Trout
Matt Bickford is no stranger to the winners circle at the Derby.  He has amassed an impressive number of wins over the years.  This year he walked away with $2,000 in prize money...but it was a bitter sweet victory as only 0.14lbs separated him from the GMC truck.  Yes, that 1/10th of a pound is less in weight than what most anglers Carolina-rig a worm with.  Yet, 2 grand is 2 grand, and Matt was smiling like a man that just went home with 2 grand.  And with his track record of bringing home the money in the Derby, I imagine we will hear more about Matt Bickford in the future.

Matt's fish was caught on Winnipesaukee.  It was caught on a live smelt rigged tip-up.  The bait was set at 3 feet in 10 feet of total water depth.  The bottom was a gradual sandy slope.  The fish was landed at 11:00am on Sunday morning.   Matt happened to be out this year with Patrick Nealon of All Season's Guide Service.

grderby200411.jpg (27605 bytes)Sunday's 2nd and 5th Place Lake Trout
These two fish were caught by two cousins fishing completely different techniques on two completely different lakes.

Lester Pearl's 6.8lb laker (right in photo) was caught at Lake Winnisquam on a jigging pole in 8 feet of water.  There were a few anglers in the bobhouse commenting that it would be really neat to see a fish swim by the hole.  They got their wish.   Later that day a monster trout raced through the hole, grazing the shiner that was hanging at the end of the jigging pole.  The fish turned, unseen by the anglers, and came back to consume the bait it had rendered helpless.  The fight was on and this bruiser of a trout was brought through the hole.  During the weekend Lester's team reported good fishing, although Saturday appeared better than Sunday.

Ernie Searles 5.48lb laker (left in photo) came on a shiner rigged tip-up on lake Winnipesaukee in 30 feet of water.  The bait was set about 10 feet off the bottom.   Ernie and his crew had 11 other lakers during the weekend and a couple of rainbows.   They even managed a few cusk.  All the trout were caught on live shiners or live smelt.

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The group photo consists of the two teams that were out with Lester and Ernie.   The names are Steve Searles, Dave Searles, Matt Gemboys, Ernie Searles, Tim Searles, Garrett Loparto (hidden) and Dave Wilcox.

grderby20049.jpg (23887 bytes)Sunday's 2nd place Pickerel
Tony Ferreira raced 58 miles to weigh in his fish.  He made it with about 5 minutes to spare.  He and his party of three were determined to get from Nashua to Meredith to weigh in his 4.6lb, 25.8inch pickerel.

This large pickerel came on a big shiner set in shallow water in a spot that is choked with weeds during the summer, on a point with a fallen tree.  It was a small pond in the city of Nashua.  The fish had not set off the flag when it fled with the bait in its mouth.  It wasn't until the crew had decided to pack it in for the day that they realized a fish had spooled the tip-up to within 10 feet of line remaining.  The slack was slowly taken out of the line, the hook was set, and the 5 minute fight pursued until the pickerel was landed.

grderby200410.jpg (19626 bytes)Sunday's Big Cusk
Roland Poulan brought in the big cusk for Sunday.  This native fish of Winnipesaukee came on a live, "big" shiner set in 40 feet of water in an area that Roland says is a "good" spot.  He had 10 other cusk during the weekend that weighed in the 3lb to 4lb range.  I would agree that he has a good spot for catching big cusk.




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