Published Date Written by Roger AmsdenMEREDITH — The 2.76 pound white perch that Mark Head of Meredith pulled through the ice on Big Squam Lake Sunday morning may have been among the smallest fish on the leader board at the 34th annual Great Rotary Ice Fishing Derby.
But, when it came time to draw names from among the 14 anglers who had landed the largest fish in seven different categories, that fish proved to be worth at least one fifth of it's weight in gold (which is around $1,650 an ounce as of Monday) as Head won the drawing for the $15,000 first prize.
Head, who works for Forestland Improvements in Tamworth, said he landed the fish using smelt as bait at an undisclosed location on Big Squam.
It was his fourth time fishing in the Derby and he said that the new system for awarding prizes, which had hitherto been limited to tagged rainbow trout, ''certainly worked out well for me.''
He said that he had no idea as to how he would spend the prize money but told his friends to call his wife and let her know that he had won as he was waiting, along with other prize winners, to have his picture taken with Governor Maggie Hassan, who had not yet arrived at Derby headquarters.
Second prize went to Lawrence Shipley of Belmont, who won $5,000 for the 4.80 pound pickerel that he had landed Saturday on Lake Opechee while fishing with his grandson, Chris Dalton.
Shipley, who knew that he had already won $250 for the largest pickerel on Saturday and another $500 for the largest pickerel of the weekend, whooped with joy after he heard his name called and made his way up the steps in front of the Derby headquarters trailer to receive his prize.
Third prize went to Thomas Knight of Hampton, whose catch was a 6.20 pound, 30.5 inch cusk which he pulled in on Lake Winnipesaukee.
The awards ceremony was held in sunny weather with temperatures in the mid 30s, a sharp contrast with Saturday in which temperatures were in the low teens and wind gusts of as high as 50 miles per hour created a virtual whiteout of Meredith Bay for much of the morning, where 14 inches of snow had fallen in the Nor'easter which stopped around noon.
Derby organizers had decided that it was too late to try and postpone the derby when they got news of the impending storm during the middle of last week and were hoping for a turnout of around 5,000. On Sunday they didn't have a final count on how many tickets were sold but estimated sales were about the same as last year, when about 4,500 were sold.
Many of the ice fishermen said they like the new prize structure and the fact that seven varieties of fish (lake trout, rainbow trout, white perch, yellow perch, cusk, pickerel, and black crappie) from any body of water open to the public in the state are now eligible.
Rusty White, 17, of Tamworth was waiting to weigh in his lake trout, which he estimated weighed four and a half pounds and had been taken through the ice at Dan Hole Pond in Ossipee. ''I wouldn't have even entered before. I don't know of good places to fish on Winnipesaukee but I know Dan Hole Pond pretty well,'' said White.
John Ahearn of Seabrook said that the weather on Saturday was ''brutal"' in Roberts Cove in Alton where had been fishing and that he and his fishing partner had landed two cusk, one 23 inches and the other 22 inches, that might qualify for a prize.
He said that the cusk would be cut into scallop-sized nuggets and fried once they were taken home.
James Bilodeau of Belmont was waiting in line with a 24-inch pickerel which he had landed on Lake Winnipesaukee, near Steamboat Island. He said that he and his fishing buddy had stayed in their bobhouse all weekend, including during Friday night's Nor'easter, and had stayed plenty warm thanks to their propane heater.
Jamie Perron of Dover and Steven Noyes of Alton won spots on the leader board on Sunday for cusk they had landed near Sleepers Island on Lake Winnipesaukee. Perron had edged out Noyes for second place with a 6.10 pound cusk. Noyes, a former Alton High School pitching and slugging standout who is now a union pipe fitter, was third with his 6.07 pound cusk.
''The whiteout Saturday was tough. So we earned this and getting one good day out of two was a bonus. It was all good and that's why we go ice fishing,'' said Noyes.
Mark Head of Meredith points to the 2.76 pound white perch that he landed Sunday in Big Squam Lake and which enable him to take home the $15,000 top prize in the 34th annual Great Rotary Fishing Derby. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)