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Little fish, big fun on Winnisquam

Jim Davis of Belmont brought Courtney Valenze and Mackenzie and Brandon Davis out for a little fun on the lake last Sunday. They didn't buy a ticket to enter the annual derby but were fishing just "for the fun of it." Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
February 03, 2010
WINNISQUAM — Anglers hit Lake Winnisquam once again this year for the Great Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby last weekend, an event that has seen the big prize-winning fish come from its icy depths in the past.

Last year's top two tagged rainbow trout came from Lake Winnisquam, caught by the same person. That kind of luck wasn't with the hundreds who covered the ice this year, but if fun were a prize, they all walked away winners.

On Sunday as the clock ticked toward the final moments to put a fish on the Rotary's leader board in Meredith, many fishermen began trudging off the ice to call it a day. Those who are really dedicated to the sport continued to bait their hooks and monitor their tip-ups though, fishing purely for the love of the sport despite the bitterly cold temperatures and wind chills across the lake.

Not everyone had purchased a ticket for the derby. Jim Davis of Belmont, fishing off the town beach with his children Mackenzie, Brandon and their friend Courtney Valenze, said they were only out there for fun, not for the competition.

"I asked what they wanted to do today and they said ice fishing. I was thinking more along the lines of bowling," he laughed.

Heavy clothes and snow mobile helmets kept the wind and cold at bay though and the kids were enjoying the day on the lake.

A lot of fishermen came in empty-handed Sunday afternoon, although some had caught smaller fish that they threw back over the course of the weekend. Brian McDonald of Northfield brought his dad John out to Winnisquam and while they did manage to land some trout, they weren't big enough.

"If you add them all up though, they were longer than my truck," McDonald joked optimistically.

On the Sanbornton side of the lake, the Pucci family came in all smiles, despite their empty creels. Mike Pucci of Laconia said everyone he spoke with out on the ice found the fishing a "little slow" but the family of brothers, with 8-year old Diane and 5-year old Ben along for the day, all had a great time trying.

Ice was reported to be from eight inches to over 12 inches in areas across the lake, making it safe to wander out by foot or snowmobile. One group had a bit of a scare, however, when the ice cracked loudly right beside them, sending a rush of water up onto the surface.

"It's making been making ice out there all weekend so the pressure released and it rose up where it cracked. It sounded like a cannon going off," they said. Rifts like these can create a hazard each winter for vehicles on the ice and Fish and Game warns those on snowmobiles and ATV's to exercise caution when traveling across frozen lakes and ponds.

While there were fisherman out on the lake all weekend, at the Winnisquam Trading Post Kevin O'Mara reported that the derby was a disappointment from a business standpoint. An announcement last week that the Winni Derby was canceled had people confusing the spring event with the ice derby, which affected his sales at the store. Many customers who stopped in were puzzled to see the activity on the ice.

"I don't understand why they announced the Winni Derby was canceled now. Why not announce that after the ice derby? People were confused," he said.

While last year the store sold 800 live smelt over the derby weekend, this year O'Mara said he'd be lucky to sell 500 of the live bait that is popular with ice fishermen.

"You can let people know we'll be having a sale next weekend. Smelt will be a dollar off on a dozen," he said.

Despite the confusion over which derby was canceled, the Rotary reported large numbers of tickets were still sold. This year's winning rainbow trout was caught by Gilmanton Ironworks resident Dave Waniski, whose 3.05 pound, 19-inch tagged rainbow trout was pulled out of Lake Winnispesaukee in Gilford.

Winnisquam fishermen were undaunted however, leaving with the standard "there's always next year" attitude.

"There's a lot of fish out there," said Roger Richardson of Tilton. "I didn't have any luck, but it was enjoyable."

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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