MEREDITH — The recent temperature swings are prompting authorities to advise people to use extra caution if they are venturing out on the ice, especially in southern parts of the state.
The 40th Annual Great Rotary Ice Fishing Derby will kick off in the Lakes Region on Saturday, and organizers are working closely with the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department to get the word out, as they do every year, that people need to be aware of changing ice conditions.
At least six inches of hard ice is recommended for any kind of foot travel, with at least 10 inches needed to support the weight of a snowmobile or OHRV.
“Safety is always first,” said 2019 derby chairman Dave Reid, explaining that everyone who buys a ticket is given the Fish & Game Department’s brochure that details how to measure ice thickness to stay safe.
“The event is no good if someone gets hurt,” Reid said.
While warming temperatures have led to some melting, Reid said, there is still plenty of ice on Meredith Bay, the epicenter of the derby. Fish taken through the ice from any water body in the state are eligible to win a prize if the angler holds a derby ticket.
“We roll with the punches,” Reid said of the recent strange weather pattern that saw the mercury dip below zero and then within days soar to the 50s.
This year, the Meredith Rotary Club, which organizes the derby, produced a graph showing how the more than $2.1 million raised since its inception has been reinvested into area communities.
The biggest single annual fundraiser for the service organization, derby ticket sales have generated dollars to fund college scholarships for area high school seniors and paid for a variety of community betterment projects in Meredith, Center Harbor and Moultonborough.
“We have such a great group of people who are really dedicated. We have one member who has only missed one derby in 40 years,” Reid said of the commitment the club has made to the event, which annually attracts from 3,500 to 4,500 participants.
“We want people to know where their $40 ticket price is being spent. It supports the many project that Rotary is built around,” he continued.
Last year, while serving as derby vice chairman, Reid recounted witnessing a 10- or 11-year-old boy bringing in a cusk to be weighed early on Saturday, and watching his joy when it got hung up on the leaderboard.
“He was hooked and I was excited for him,” said Reid.
Speaking from the trailer that serves as derby headquarters at Hesky Park, Reid said a pickup truck with the license plate “FISHN” had just pulled in and predicted an easy sale of a derby ticket. But you don’t need to fish or enter a fish to win a cash prize.
There are two $5,000 cash prize drawings during the weekend as well as $100 cash drawings every 15 minutes beginning at noon on Saturday and continuing until 4 p.m. on Sunday. Prizes for the top winning fish are $15,000, $5,000 and $3,000.
“The derby brings anglers and families from as far away as Texas and California to enjoy the beauty of New Hampshire and also be in the running for more than $50,000 in cash prizes,” Reid said.
The presale of derby tickets online has been brisk, according to Reid, who predicts the trend will grow in the coming years as people discover they can skip the lines and print them out at home.
On Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m. and offered on the hour until 3 p.m., Rotary Club volunteers will team up with Fish & Game to offer a free hands-on clinic for kids and their parents on the basics of ice fishing. While geared toward kids, the clinic is open to anyone. Those under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. All equipment will be provided and those taking part in the clinic do not need to have a fishing license in order to drop a line.
Any fish not claimed from the leaderboard after the derby concludes at 3 p.m. on Sunday will be donated to the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center and used to feed their captive raptors and animals.
Derby tickets can be purchased online at www.meredithrotary.com