NEK Ice Fishing Derby draws 720 competitors

Masyn Harvey of Orleans struggles to hold up this whopper.  He caught it in Lake Memphremagog on Saturday.  Photo by David Dudley

Masyn Harvey of Orleans struggles to hold up this whopper. He caught it in Lake Memphremagog on Saturday. Photo by David Dudley

copyright the Chronicle February 18, 2015

by David Dudley

DERBY — Hundreds of enthusiastic ice fishermen braved the weekend’s bitter cold to participate in the eleventh annual Northeast Kingdom Ice Fishing Derby.   Sub-zero temperatures didn’t discourage people from setting their shanties up on lakes Willoughby, Memphremagog, Crystal, and Shadow, among others.

What compels people to go outside in such brutal conditions?

There’s the competition, of course. Ron Wright, owner of Wright’s Sport Shop in Derby, has organized the event for 11 years now. Some of the proceeds are donated to the Mary Wright Halo Foundation, which helps to support Orleans County residents who are diagnosed with cancer.

In the past decade, Mr. Wright and his team have cultivated the event from a small gathering of local people to a regional attraction. This year they procured over $50,000 worth of prizes.

“When we started this 11 years ago, we had about 76 people participate,” Mr. Wright said. “This year we had 600 adults and 120 children registered.”

Mr. Wright said that the event fills two important needs for him. It gives people in the community something to do during the long winter, and it stimulates the local economy.

“We wanted to get everybody involved,” he said. “People travel from all over New England to be a part of this. We’ve got people registered from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and even from as far away as Burlington.

“They all need places to stay, gear, and food to eat. And we all need every opportunity to get out of the house.”

Arnold Buiclaff of Barton was out on Crystal Lake Friday morning. Though the sun was shining, the wind chill was bitter. Still, Mr. Buiclaff made a point of keeping his family tradition alive.

“We’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember,” he said. “Forty years at least. My grandparents, my aunt and uncle got me into it. It’s a real family event.”

Mr. Buiclaff said that in the past, it wasn’t uncommon for him to bring out upwards of 15 children to ice fish.

“They’re hardier than us,” he said. “I don’t want to be outside but for as long as it takes to pull up a fish. But the kids can run around all day on the ice and never get too cold to play.”

But this year’s cold made Mr. Buiclaff question whether or not he’d bring his grandchildren out on the ice.

“It’s cold,” Mr. Buiclaff said. “My granddaughter wants to go ice fishing when it’s 65 degrees. But I don’t know where she’s gonna go and do that.”

While there are many choice spots to set up a shanty, Mr. Buiclaff said he remains loyal to Crystal Lake.

“We’re here on Crystal because I live local,” he said. “My grandkids come out. It’s easy access for us. They can come out and stay until they get cold. Make a phone call, then they can get home where it’s warm.”

Mr. Wright emphasized the family bonding aspect of the event as well.

“This is the kind of thing that keeps families together,” he said. “We’ve got to keep kids off the streets. One of the best ways to do that is to encourage them to do things with their parents.”

And Saturday was all about the kids. A visit to Wright’s Sport Shop revealed that the cold wasn’t keeping the kids from hitting the ice with their parents. There was a steady flow of young fishermen walking in, wearing big coats, big boots, and big smiles.

There wasn’t a child who walked through the door empty handed.

Five-year-old Irelynn King walked in with a 32-inch, 7.5-pound pike. Her family had traveled all the way from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

“I had a bunch of fun on the ice,” Irelynn said. “But it was super cold.”

Irelynn’s father, Zach King, a commercial fisherman, said that he grew up in Vermont.

“We look forward to doing this every year,” Mr. King said. “She’s been doing it her whole life. The outdoors are very important to us.”

Like Mr. King, Mr. Buiclaff also feels a strong sense of tradition around ice fishing.

“It’s so important to teach our children to fish, to hunt,” Mr. Buiclaff said. “If we don’t, this great tradition might die out. We can’t do that. It’s part of who we are.”

There’s an old proverb that says: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. These parents seem to have taken that wisdom to heart.

The adult contest winners are:

Lake trout: Alton Dunkin, 5.4 pounds, 26.5″

Brown trout: Ivy Caron, 5.4 pounds, 24.5″

Rainbow trout: Dan Lantagne, 5.6 pounds, 24.5”

Salmon: Pat Reil, 3.7 pounds, 20 3/4″

Perch: Walt Martin, 1.4 pounds, 13″

Northern pike: Fred Demag, 19.2 pounds, 42″

Walleye: Jake Fregeau, 8 pounds, 26 3/4″

The youth winners are:

Pike: Ava Prue, 6.5 pounds, 28.5″

Brown trout: Tristan Colburn, 3.7 pounds, 21 1/4″

Laker: Aiden Carpenter, 6.8 pounds, 25 3/4″

Salmon: Zach Pool, 4 pounds, 22″

Perch: Christian Paddleford, 1.3 pounds, 13″

Pickerel: Tatum Kimball, 2.4 pounds, 21″

contact David Dudley at [email protected]

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