This weekend a February nor’easter slammed New England and New York. Connecticut declared a state of emergency. The governor of Massachusetts ordered all cars off the roads or face a hefty fine. Hundreds of cars got stuck on the Long Island Expressway. Portland, Maine got a record 32″ of snow. And New Hampshire? New Hampshire had a fishing derby.
To be fair, by the time the storm was in our path it was too late to cancel this annual event. But judging from the crowds today in Meredith, not even a blizzard could put a damper on the 5000 fishermen who signed up to participate in the Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby.
This year, the winners in each fish category – lake trout, rainbow trout, white perch, yellow perch, cusk, pickerel and black crappie – will have their names entered in a drawing, with the top winner awarded $15,000, $5,000 for second place, and $3,000 for third place. Organizers said they hoped the worst of the storm would pass by the time the tournament really got under way. Bobhouses were anchored into the ice a foot deep before the storm so they could withstand the winds that were forecast.
Personally I have no interest in fish. The fun here is in the quirkiness of the event … where else can you walk on a frozen lake, eat french fries, and watch ice augers and tip-ups at work? (And if you don’t know what a tip-up is, it becomes an education.) There is a carnival atmosphere, with snow machines instead of rides and a midway of colorful, unique bobhouses. The crowd is a mix of fishermen, photographers, kids, dogs, and sightseers in awe of the fact that they’re walking out in the middle of Meredith Bay.
While there were no pool tables or hot tubs out on the ice this year, presumably because of yesterday’s storm, there was still plenty of entertainment: music blaring, snowmobiles zipping past, cookouts, kids sliding down snowdrifts, and – maybe the best – the sight of a little boy weighing his freshly-caught perch. Walking around was a little more difficult with all the fresh snow. The wind was still blowing out on the lake. By the time I left I couldn’t feel my toes any more. But, as always, I’m glad I came. After 13 years in this beautiful area the derby has, like for so many other people, become tradition – blizzard or not.