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Despite pandemic, it’s still ice fishing derby time

Saranac Lake Classic to offer safe alternative to traditional event

Above, from left, brothers Brandon, Colby and Dillon Boudreau display their catches of 13 northern pike, a perch and a bullhead in March 2019 after completion of the 35th annual Colby Classic ice fishing derby. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — Jon Gorgas and Doug Peck didn’t want the coronavirus pandemic to deter area ice fishing enthusiasts from enjoying a local tradition that has taken place on the first weekend of March each year during a span stretching across four decades.

Like a countless number of events, concerns about COVID-19 have resulted in the cancellation of the annual Colby Classic Ice Fishing Derby this winter. For the past 36 years, the two-day derby organized by the the Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club has been held on the first weekend in March. Since it began, the derby has drawn hundreds of participants each year and has been headquartered on Lake Colby in Saranac Lake, where fish are weighed at prizes are doled out at the village beach house.

In order to keep the tradition alive, Gorgas and Peck have come up with a solution.

Instead of there being no organized ice fishing derby locally this year, they have organized the Saranac Lake Classic. Like the Colby Classic, it’s an event offering youngsters and adults alike a chance to get out and fish and see how their catches stack up against against the rest of the participants.

But this derby also has some major differences designed with safety in mind. At the same time, it will be a fundraiser for both the Saranac Lake and Bloomingdale volunteer fire departments.

“I’ve fished in the Colby Classic for the past 20 years or so, and it’s such a great event,” Gorgas said. “It’s what we do every March, and we didn’t want to see people missing it this year. It’s for families, it’s for kids, it’s fun, so we decided to do something similar to get people out enjoying being on the lakes while keeping them safe.”

Prior to this year, the Colby Classic has been a two-day derby held on the first Saturday and Sunday in March. This time around, it will expanded to a three-day event starting Friday and ending on Sunday at 7 p.m., Gorgas said.

During the Colby Classic, trout, salmon and perch caught on Lake Colby have been eligible for prizes, while northern pike that have been pulled up through the ice on other bodies of water surrounding the Saranac Lake area have also been included. The Saranac Lake Classic, however, will allow trout, salmon, perch and northern pike caught on all bodies of water located in the Saranac Lake Central School District to be in the running for prizes.

With a cost of $20 per adults and $10 for those 16 and younger, entering the derby is not expensive and money raised will go to a good cause. This year, perch will be a youth only division and northern pike and trout (brown and rainbow) will be the other two divisions in the running for prizes. Gorgas said any salmon entered will be included in the trout category.

There will be no in-person weigh in. Instead, those fishing will use the fishdonkey.com app to photograph, weigh and record their catches. All information, including how to enter, can be found on the Saranac Lake Classic Ice Derby Facebook page, which in turn will direct those who enter to the FishDonkey link. Gorgas said one huge benefit associated with using the FishDonkey app is fish caught can be released alive as soon as they are measured.

As of Monday, Gorgas said approximately 50 people had already signed up for the derby, and he added that several area businesses have come through as prize sponsors. An early bird prize, a pop-up ice shanty, had already been awarded in the lead-up to the event.

In addition to being an fishing enthusiast, Gorgas is also a six-year member of the Bloomingdale Volunteer Fire Department, and Peck is a second assistant chief for the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department.

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