B y Derek Liebig
The granddaddy of local fishing derbies, the Great Benson Derby, returns to the frozen waters of the Lakes Region this week.
Sponsored by the Fair Haven Rotary Club, the 42nd annual derby will be held on Feb. 22 and 23 with headquarters at Crystal Beach on Lake Bomoseen.
The derby, the oldest hard water fishing contest in the Lakes Region, is one of the most eagerly anticipated fishing events of the year.
“The area we’re in, with so many lakes and a long winter, in order to occupy ourselves, ice fishing has stayed popular. And I think the anglers start looking for that extra excitement with the cash prizes and raffles,” Jeff Larson, a member of the Rotary club said.
“Big Fish, Big Cash”
The draw of “big fish” and “big cash”—the derby’s slogan—attracts an average of 600 anglers each year. Those anglers will vie for more than $10,000 in cash prizes and awards, including $5,800 in big fish prizes.
The angler who lands the largest fish in a category will receive $600. Second place is worth $300 and third place $200. A sixth category, “biggest other” nets the winner $300. The winner of the largest lake trout category will also receive The Wayne Lacey Trophy.
The remainder of the prize money is given out in the form of raffle prizes and gift certificates. One lucky winner will walk home with $1,000 while three others will leave with an extra $500 in their wallets. There are also four $250 cash raffles and 10 $100 cash prizes.
The “Big Fish” winner and the “Big Cash” drawings will be held at 3:45 p.m. on Sunday. The remaining raffle prizes will be drawn from noon until 3 p.m. on Sunday. Winners do not need to be present to win and those who don’t want to fish can buy a raffle-only ticket for the cash giveaways.
Size restriction on pike
Larson said the event remains largely unchanged but officials have one made significant rule change at the request of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.
They have placed a 9-pound, 33-inch minimum on all northern pike.
“We’re trying to be good stewards to the lake and the fish, in particular the northern pike. Fish and wildlife biologists are concerned that we were fishing out all the breeding size fish, which aren’t large enough to pay out besides,” Larson said.
Besides pike (of the requisite size), anglers can also fish for lake trout, other trout (rainbow and brown), walleye, bass and biggest other. Kids can also compete to see who catches the heaviest string of three fish.
Fishable waters include all Vermont waters and Lake Champlain meaning anglers can fish their favorite honey holes in hopes of landing a derby winner. All fish, regardless of where they are caught, need to be weighed at derby headquarters by 3 p.m. on Sunday to be eligible for any prizes.
And while snowfall will make it a little harder to get around, conditions look good on most area lakes.
“The weather is a concern every year, but this year there is plenty of ice,” Larson said. “We’re excited. Things look good.”
A charitable history
The derby, which got its start off Benson Landing in 1973 and is one of the oldest hard water fishing contests in New England, is one of the Fair Haven Rotary Club’s largest annual fundraisers.
Members estimate the derby has raised more than a quarter-million dollars for the organization’s charitable endeavors, which include local scholarships, assistance for local food shelves and financial literacy programs, to name a few.
Final leg of fishing series
Tickets for the derby, which include entry into the raffles, cost $25 and can be purchased at local bait shops and at derby headquarters. Raffle-only tickets are available for $20 and children’s (under 12 years of age) tickets are available for $5.
The derby also serves as the last event of the Central Vermont Lakes Region Ice Fishing Series, which awards $500 to the angler who accrues the most points during the four derbies—Down Home, Lake Hortonia, Lake Bomoseen and Great Benson—that are part of the series. That prize will be awarded during the Castleton Lions annual Fish Fry on March 9.
Food concessions will be available throughout the weekend at derby headquarters.
For more information, call 802-273-FISH.