Great Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby draws ice fishermen in droves

MEREDITH — As the sun began to set and the temperature dropped to 16 degrees Saturday afternoon, some ice fishermen participating in this year’s Great Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby were packing it in for the day and heading for the great indoors, while others prepared to hunker down in their bobhouses for the night.

Paul Connolly of Shapleigh, Maine, and his son, Grady, 10, were packing their supplies on a sled for easy transport across the ice.

They planned to return to Meredith Bay today, though Connolly said they might choose less crowded spot.

On Saturday, they were located not far from Hesky Park and the docks, where derby headquarters is located.

Connolly, who’s been to the derby five times, said while they were battered Friday by high winds and chilling temperatures while setting up, Saturday turned out to be better, with only mild winds, sun and temperatures in the low 20s.

Grady has accompanied his father during some of the previous years, but this is first time he was old enough to be a participant.

The boy said he likes the excitement of catching fish.

“I like it when the flag goes up,” he said. “I’m like, oh, we got a fish!”

Grady said Saturday they caught one small pickerel and almost caught another, but it let go of the bait before they could pull it up.

Connolly said he likes ice fishing because it’s another great way to spend time outdoors with his son.

“We like doing outside sports, especially in winter, instead of sitting inside watching TV,” Connolly said.

At derby headquarters, Rob Wichland, derby co-chairman, said despite the cold, thousands of people still attended Saturday, though numbers were down a bit.

Alan MacRae/Citizen photo An ice fisherman drills a hole as his easy chair and a fire await Saturday during the annual Great Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby.

There were 5,000 tickets sold, he said, 400 less than last year.

“I think it’s the real bitter cold weather we endured yesterday (Friday) and early today (Saturday),” he said.

He said the fact that the derby began a few weeks earlier than usual didn’t seem to affect sales.

“Presales were actually up, but vendor and booth ticket sales were down because of the weather,” Wichland said.

The derby, which awards about $60,000 in prizes each year, nets just as much, if not more, in profit, all of which goes back to the community in the form scholarships and donations to area charities, Wichland said.

The event’s success depends on dozens of volunteers, he added, of which there is no shortage among the Rotary Club’s members.

“It’s a really great effort by everyone in our club. Everyone gets involved,” Wichland said. “It’s a whole lot of work, but very gratifying.”

Back on the ice, David Hemmerling of Melrose, Mass., has been to the Great Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby for the past eight years.

A native of Enfield, Hemmerling said he and relatives love coming to Lake Winnipesaukee, and they love the sport of ice fishing.

“I like getting out with my brother, my brother-in-law and my friends,” he said. “It’s our excuse to get together and get away every year.”

He said he also likes the sport of ice fishing and the winter camping aspect of it, especially cooking over a grill.

He said they bring a big grill out on the ice and make “big sausage bombs.”

Alan MacRae/Citizen photo Parts of Meredith Bay remained unfrozen because of water currents and thermals Saturday during the annual Great Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby.

While Hemmerling, his relatives and friends were heading back to Enfield for the night, he said they may be back Sunday, or they may just set up their portable, tentlike bobhouses on a lake there to see if they have better luck catching fish.

On Saturday, they only caught one brook trout, but nothing board-worthy, he said.

He said his brother will also work harder at his fish catching “secret.”

“You have to talk them (the fish) in,” Hemmerling said. “At least my brother thinks so, and sometimes it seems to work.”

Bill Hemmel/ A lone bobhouse sits on snow-sculpted ice Saturday during the annual Great Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby.

Alan MacRae/Citizen photo The trophy board begins to fill up with potential prize-winning fish Saturday during the annual Great Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby.

Bill Hemmel/ Meredith Bay is dotted with bobhouses and ice fishermen Saturday during the annual Great Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby.

Alan MacRae/Citizen photo Dressed for the cold, Marletta Maduskuie snaps a picture during the derby.

Alan MacRae/Citizen photo Potential prize-winning rainbow trout hang on the prize board Saturday.

Bill Hemmel/ A city made of bobhouses, tents and vendor booths springs up in Meredith Bay each year during the Great Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby.

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