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Fishing was slow but fun was rampant on Winnisquam

Josh Berry, Robert Puffinburger, Richard Simonds and Wes Crockett did their best to pull up a prize-winning catch off Belmont Beach during the Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby, but fun abounded at Simonds’ bob house even if the fish did not. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
February 16, 2011
BELMONT — While the hub of activity for the Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby was at Meredith Bay on Lake Winnipesauke last weekend, hardy anglers also spread out to lakes like Winnisquam, another popular spot for those seeking a tagged rainbow trout or other prize-winning fish.

Six-year-old Matthew and his dad Parker from Belmont enjoyed time together on the ice off Belmont Beach last Saturday but Matthew said he hadn't had a lot of luck.

"This was my first time on the ice and my first time fishing and we didn't catch anything but I liked it still," Matthew said.

Others in their fishing party did manage to pull up a few fish but nothing big enough to enter into the competition.

Out on the lake, hoping to catch the big one, was another local group who stuck with the fishing even as the clock ticked toward the deadline for getting a prize catch to the Winners Board in Meredith. Not everyone in the group had a derby ticket but all were enthusiastic about the fishing and enjoying time with family and friends at their bob house headquarters.

"If there was a category for the most fun over the derby weekend, we'd win," said Robert Puffinburger of Northfield.

Puffinburger and his friends have been setting up camp and ice fishing for at least five winters now, and they all bragged in true fishing fashion that they could have won many times but just never made it to Meredith in time with their catch.

On Saturday they, like Matthew's group, pulled in a few cusk and some smaller lake trout but no prize winner. Richard Simonds of Belmont, one of Puffinburger's fishing partners, joked that was because they had caught all of the fish the weekend before.

"We're just having fun at our 'winter home' today," Simonds laughed.

Nearby, Jerry Waldron, his son Jerry Jr. and friend Steve Smith from Gilmanton were equipped with a solar-style bob house to warm themselves as they spent the day on the ice. Outside their house there were burgers on the grill and music playing as they baited hooks and watched their flags. All three agreed it was a lot of fun no matter how many fish they caught.

"My son caught a smaller laker but the rest of the day has been really slow. It all depends on where you're fishing I guess, but we come out here to have a good time no matter what," Waldron said.

Small lake trout and cusk seemed to be the main catch for everyone along the Belmont shoreline, leaving some to wonder where the rest of the fish were last weekend.

Anglers at nearby Bartlett Beach, a seemingly prime location for that particular species, said they have caught many a rainbow trout along the sandy shoreline in past years but did not find any on Saturday. Some thought a lively otter family seen in the area was in competition with them and perhaps "scaring off the big fish." Others had no excuse, however, as they patiently threw footballs and rode snowmobiles and four-wheelers around to pass the time.

"I guess it's just the luck of the draw," one fisherman said with a shrug as he headed back for the shore.

Wes Crockett of Concord said he was hoping for the "luck of the draw" this year, but by late Saturday he was beginning to count more on the draw of the tickets at derby headquarters, awarding cash prizes to ticket holders throughout the weekend.

"I didn't catch a tagged fish last year but I got a phone call on Monday morning that I'd won $100. That paid for my derby ticket for the next few years at least. It was sure better than nothing," he said.

Across the ice children played, adults chatted and everyone enjoyed barbecues and snowmobiling. Crocket said catching a trophy fish would be a bonus but relaxation and a good time was what the weekend was really all about.

"It's fun just being out here. This is the stuff I live for, hanging out with my friends and that chance for the golden ticket, if you're lucky enough," he said.

In all Meredith Rotary awarded $63,700 in cash and prizes over the two days of the derby. This year's top prize, an 18-foot Pioneer Sport fishing boat and trailer valued at $25,500, was won by Robert LaVerdiere of Concord who brought in the heaviest of the weekend's tagged rainbow trout.

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