Gagnon cashes in at Colby Classic

Westchester County residents, from left, Gene Maslowski, Dan Evangelista, Mark Chomich and Nick Concavage relax at their encampment Saturday on the Lake Colby ice while fishing in the 34th annual Colby Classic. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — It turned out to be quite a weekend for Saranac Lake’s Cameron Gagnon at the Colby Classic Ice Fishing Derby. But then again, as usual, everyone who took part in the annual two-day tradition certainly seemed to be having a lot of fun.

The two-day 34th annual Colby Classic was held this past weekend in Saranac Lake and on surrounding lakes and ponds, and by the time derby ended at 4 p.m. Sunday, Gagnon found himself as a three-time winner. Fishing for two days on Lake Colby with three friends, Gagnon pulled in the winning 4.01 pound trout in the adult division, he hooked a tagged salmon worth $100 and capped things off by taking home the grand prize of a trip for four on Lake Ontario with Fish Doctor Charters.

The derby kicked off at 7 a.m. Saturday morning. Gagnon said at 7:05 a.m., his group already had five flags up, and one of those produced his winning trout. He said the tagged salmon was caught the next day.

“This was the most successful Colby Classic that I’ve ever had,” Gagnon said. “It was pretty insane. We were up for sunrise Saturday, and raring to go. Five minutes into the derby, I already had a winning fish. During the day, I was going back to the leaderboard every few hours to see if my fish was still winning, and that never changed. We just killed it out there.”

Nice weather factored into the Colby Classic this year. Last winter’s derby was held in bitter cold conditions and turnout was well below 200 entries. This time around, Saturday proved to be an ideal day to spend out on the ice and Sunday was tolerable, despite some driving snow. Derby chairman Dustin Martin said approximately 240 people participated over the weekend, which was about 90 more than in 2017.

John Witters, who lives in Webster, displays a 1.53-pound brown trout he reeled in Saturday on Lake Colby. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“The weather last year had a lot to do with a low turnout,” Martin said. “It went from one extreme to another. This year the weather was great.”

Martin said the smaller size of the derby, the family atmosphere, the time of year, as well as an inexpensive entry fee all help draw people to the Colby Classic.

“34 years and going strong,” Martin said. “I think its a good chance for everybody to get out with their family. The derby started as a filler between Winter Carnival and the arrival of spring.”

The event draws familiar faces every year, from locals who have been participating for decades to those traveling to Saranac Lake who want to get out on the ice at least one more time during the late winter.

One group of fishermen participating over the weekend escaped their homes in Westchester County as a Nor’easter was striking the east coast. The group consisted of Gene Maslowski, Dan Evangelista, Mark Comich and Nick Concavage.

“This is probably our fourth year. We do specifically come up for the derby, but we have no ice left in Westchester. Usually as our ice melts, we work our way further and further north — Schroon, Brant, Lake George, and we happened to wind up here one time. I have some friends in the area who told us about this derby and that was it. Once we found out about this derby, we’ve been coming up ever since.

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s not as big as the Tupper Lake one, so you don’t get a thousand people on the ice,” Comich added. “This is a nice tournament because it’s a local tournament, it’s a nice small tournament and you don’t get a lot of people and machines driving around like those bigger ones. We like the town of Saranac Lake, we stay a hotel right here.”

Apparently, the foursome from Westchester West was such a fun bunch, they were able to “kidnap” their waiter from town and bring him to the derby on Saturday.

“He was our waiter last night. We just met him,” Concavage said. “We told him we were fantastic fishermen and now I think he’s regretting he met us. We haven’t caught a lot.”

Judging from the action, perch was the catch of the day Saturday on Lake Colby. Most encampments on the lake had a pile of a dozen or so perch laid out on the ice.

John Witters, however, was fortunate enough to pull in a 1.5-pound brown trout that was briefly on the leader board before getting knocked off by bigger fish.

“I’ve come to 28 of the derbys. I’ve only missed a couple. said Witters, a 1988 North Country Community College graduate who makes the trip from his home in Rochester for the Colby Classic each year. “I’ve have friends who I meet up with, people who like to be around each other. I usually bring my son, but he’s managing a horse stable and couldn’t make the trip. We come up here two or three times a year.

“This derby is fairly quiet, the ice is usually safe, and it’s a nice friendly little derby,” he continued. “I used to be a member of the fish and game club, and I still support them. Even if I wasn’t fishing, I’d still pay the entry. 10 dollars, how can you beat that?”

Prizes were awarded for the three largest fish in adult and youth divisions. Following Gagnon in the adult trout division in second place was Don Veloski at 2.66 pounds and Nick Concavage at 2.28. Randy Hart took the adult perch win with a .87-pound catch, Albert Bruso was second with a .85 pound catch and Dave Bishop was third at .83. Sean Wood won the adult pike division at 12.67 pounds, John Skiff was runner-up at 11.02 pounds and Kris Patterson took third with a 10.51-pound pike.

No adult salmon were entered, and no trout or salmon were entered in the youth division. Cayden Heading won the youth perch contest with a .78-pound catch, Andrea Milgrim was second, also at .78, and Walter Peletier took third at .70.

Kealan Ryan won the youth pike contest with a 10.26-pound fish, Colby Boudreau was second at 8.34 and Brandon Boudreau was third at 8.07 pounds.

Three of 10 tagged salmon that we recently stocked in Lake Colby were caught during the derby and worth $100 each, thanks to derby sponsors. Gagnon’s salmon was sponsored by longtime Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club member Bob Brown. Roger Pratt and his daughter Grace Lancto-Pratt caught a tagged salmon sponsored by Trudeau Sand and Gravel and Todd Hagar caught another that was sponsored in memory of George Farrell.

Martin said he’s hoping that next year’s derby, the 35th Colby Classic, will include more prize-winning fish. He’s hoping to have 35 tagged fish sponsored and released next year for the event.

For more information, or to help as a sponsor, call the Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club at 518 891-2560.