Photo: 190211-news-fish

Dan Desmarais of Milford, stands next to the 3.63-pound rainbow trout he caught through the ice of Alton Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee on Sunday winning him the $15,000 grand prize in the 40th Annual Great Rotary Ice Fishing Derby in Meredith.

MEREDITH — A Milford man who landed a 3.63-pound rainbow trout on Saturday won the Great Rotary Ice Fishing Derby and took home a tasty dinner and the $15,000 grand prize.

“I was like a little kid. I was freaking out,” Dan Desmarais said of his reaction when he pulled the fish out of the water in Alton Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee. He used salmon eggs as bait.

Desmarais said he has fond memories of coming to the derby with his father and a group of his friends, but had never caught a big fish during the event.

“I told my buddies I was going to make the board,” he said. The prize is especially sweet, he said, as he is between jobs.

Daniel Hall of Ashburnham, Mass., was the second-place finisher with a 4.73-pound pickerel and won $5,000. Steven Thompson of Milton, won third prize and $3,000 with a 1.67-pound yellow perch.

Participants on Saturday had to contend with blustery winds.

Nicholas Anderson of Warner, said he and his son, Kaleb, were riding a four-wheeler towing their bob house onto the ice off Moultonborough Neck Friday night when the wind caught the bob house, spun the ATV around and started pulling it backwards. With winds gusting up to 38 mph he decided not to try and move it again and staked it into the ice where it stopped.

“We slept on the ice but the wind was blowing so hard the whole bottom of the bob house was vibrating,” he recounted while waiting to weigh in three pickerel at derby headquarters at Hesky Park in Meredith.

John Viar a fisheries biologist with N.H. Fish & Game Region 2, based in New Hampton, was helping to weigh in fish and said the derby provides the department with valuable information about the health of the state’s freshwater fishery.

“The die-hard fisherman where here yesterday. The conditions were sub-human,” Viar said of the windy conditions.

While he won’t have all the data collected during the event for a few weeks, he said his preliminary impression is that the fish looked healthy.

“It’s a good tool for us,” Viar said of the derby, as it is held during the same time each year, and attracts fish caught in lakes and great ponds from throughout the state. One of the largest fish taken during the derby was a 8.45 pound lake trout, caught in Dan Hole Pond in Ossipee.

Tyler Lavertu of Brighton, Mass., formerly of Manchester, landed a 3.33-pound rainbow trout about noontime on Sunday, the second largest of the species caught that day.

“When I saw it flop on the ice, I knew it was a fat one,” he said. The fish earned him a $250 prize.

Just prior to announcing the names of the winning anglers, Derby Chairman Dave Reid recognized the two members of the Meredith Rotary Club that founded the event that has raised more than $2 million dollars since its launch 40 years ago. All of the proceeds of the event fund various Rotary initiatives including college scholarships, municipal betterment projects, and fish stocking among them.

John Sherman of Meredith, who has volunteered at 39 of the last derbies and was manning the outside scales on Sunday, said it was hard to believe the event has spanned four decades.

Fellow honoree Bruce Sanderson, of Meredith, who has worked at least 15 derbies, recounted the event came from humble beginnings.

“We didn’t have high expectations,” he said.

Sherman said the event has become such a mainstay in the Lakes Region he believes that people would still come to ice fish the second weekend of February even if there was no longer an organized derby.

“It’s become a tradition,” he said. Many fishermen waiting to weigh in their catches, echoed Sherman’s sentiments, saying they started participating in the derby with their father or grandfather and were continuing that tradition with their own kids.