Camping and community — and fishing — at the Northern Challenge

Andrea LaMere and Christopher Duhaime sit by one of Duhaime’s holes with a triggered tip-up flag at the Northern Challenge Fishing Derby in Tupper Lake. Though the line was empty, the party carried on, everyone knowing there was more time to pull up a prize-winning pike. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — Hundreds of anglers made the frozen surface of Lake Simon their home Saturday to compete in the Tupper Lake Rod and Gun Club’s annual Northern Challenge Fishing Derby.

With people camping, cooking, drinking and, most importantly, fishing in the temporary city on the ice, the energetic atmosphere stretched from the shore — where the caught pike were weighed, tallied and released — to the middle of the lake, where participants readied their bait, stayed warm by fires and patiently watched their tip-up flags for a bite.

Sherm LaLonde, a former employee of the Department of Environmental Conservation, took care of the fish at the weigh-in station, letting them swim in a pool of water cut in the ice so they could regain their strength before he slipped them down a hole into the lake.

LaLonde said he only loses a handful of fish each year, and though he spends much of the day with his hands submerged in frigid water or wrestling with the slippery, uncooperative pike, he returns every year to make sure they are all released safely.

Many participants came from out of town, filling Tupper Lake’s available motel rooms and even sleeping in their trucks or in shacks out on the lake. As far as the eye could see on the lake, small, single-person tents, family-sized homemade shacks and mini-communes of a variety of shelters dotted the ice. Each housed eager anglers, 10 or so holes per participant and fires in wood piles, garbage cans and barbecue pits.

Sherm LaLonde brings a pike to be revived in a water pool at the Northern Challenge Fishing Derby in Tupper Lake. He said though the water is near freezing and the fish are slippery, he does it every year to keep as many fish as possible alive and swimming in the lake. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Though they stood exposed to the wind in single-digit temperatures, families and friends of the anglers camped out on the ice as well, providing moral support, talking with neighbors as they ran toward active flags and even helping set up tip-ups. The derby is more than a competition to see who can catch the heaviest fish; it is a community event that attracts anyone looking for a good time with other people brave enough to spend a day in the elements.

“How many places can you come on the ice at five in the morning, crack a beer and see a dirt bike go by?” Jessica Duhaime said.

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