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Winni Derby continues to delight avid anglers

Peter Worthen of Bristol and his friend Mark Boeing of Bedford, Mass., head out from Meredith Bay for a day of fishing. Sarah Schmidt. (click for larger version)

Cody Dodds poses by a prize boat with one of the salmon he caught that day. Sarah Schmidt. (click for larger version)
May 20, 2009
LAKES REGION — Just a few months ago, anglers drilled holes in the ice to reach the fish of Lake Winnipesaukee. For the 28th annual Winni Derby, however, changing locations to lure the largest fish was a lot easier.

Winni Derby Weighmaster Glen Davis estimated that about 2,500-3,000 people had registered to take part in the derby competition. Fishers competed to find the biggest salmon and lake trout swimming in Lake Winnipesaukee, in the hopes of being the one to leave the derby with one of several coveted prizes.

"The lake is busy," said Davis, who estimated that he'd been the derby's weighmaster for more than 20 years. "Most are out on their own, and we have a few beginners. The neat thing is that a beginner fishing at this time of year has as much chance of catching the big one as an expert."

As Davis spoke, several men carrying a cooler between them came up to the weigh station on the public docks at Weirs Beach. Inside, a large salmon thrashed as Fish and Game Officer John Viar tried to grab it and lay it against a ruler to check the size. They were in luck - Cody Dodds of Hanover brought in a 3.30 pound salmon, moving to third place that afternoon.

After a few celebratory pictures, Dodds packed the salmon back into the cooler and prepared to release the fish back into the lake.

"We started at the other end of the lake, fishing for salmon," said Dodds. "The lake was packed from one end to the other (with fishers)."

Friday dawned warm and sunny over Lake Winnipesaukee, bringing the boats out onto the lake. Since fishing for salmon had been slow that morning, Viar said, many anglers started fishing for lake trout. The lake trout found so far that day (the largest at 8.42 pounds, as of 3 p.m.) were a bit smaller that the ones pulled from the lake during the Rotary Ice Fishing Derby earlier that year.

The derby has lots of benefits for both the lake and the towns that surround it, Viar noted, as he measured each fish that came in, checking to make sure that it met the length requirements.

"We (the Fish and Game Department) get a lot of good length and weight data, and it helps us keep our statistics," said Viar. "It's also good for the local economy, as a kind of jump start before Memorial Day. It's well-attended every year."

Winners of the tournament had prizes suited to their hobby. The grand prize for the largest salmon pulled from Lake Winnipesaukee was a fully-equipped 2009 Starcraft 1700 fishing boat, while the major prize winner for the lake trout division received a 2009 Starcraft SF1420 DLX fishing boat. A junior angler who caught the largest lake salmon received a fully-equipped 2009 Starcraft SF 1420 Split seat boat. Prizes were awarded at the end of each fishing day at the Laconia Ice Arena.

Not everyone came to the derby with the prizes in mind, though. Peter Worthen of Bristol and his friend Mark Boeing of Bedford, Mass., have made the derby their tradition. They've never won anything, but it didn't stop Worthen from fishing in Lake Winnipesaukee for the last 30 years.

"It's always a group effort," said Worthen. "We fished across the country one year. The derby is a traditional thing for us to get together every summer and fish. We've got sonar and a depth finder. The fish don't stand a chance."

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