MAYFIELD - Saturday was a great day to be an ice fisherman and a bad one to be a walleye.
People from all over the Northeast gathered Saturday on the Great Sacandaga Lake for the fifth-annual Great Sacandaga Walleye Challenge ice fishing derby.
Organizer Lou Stutzke, owner of event sponsor Fuel N Food, said this year's Walleye Challenge was the best yet.
Beaver Ross holds one of the big walleyes caught Saturday on the Great Sacandaga Lake during the fifth annual Great Sacandaga Walleye Challenge. Other organizers of the event said the weather and the turnout were excellent. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
Organizer Lou Stuzke releases a walleye into the lake near the Broadalbin boat launch during the fifth annual Walleye Challenge on Saturday. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
Craig Freebern of Greenfield Center gets ready to put a tip-up in place for fishing near the Broadalbin Boat Launch. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
"The fishing turnout was the best that we've ever seen," Stutzke said. "The conditions were perfect. The cold weather and it warming up today [really helped]. There's no heavy snow on the lake, no slush, but there's enough snow for the snowmobiles."
And with a larger group of fishing participants, this year's event also resulted in the most fish caught at the derby.
The giveaways and award winners were announced at Lanzi's on the Lake to another sold-out crowd. Catches ranged from 1.4 to 3.5 pounds, with an average length of about 21 inches. The 3.5-pound walleye was 24 inches long.
Mark Kilmer, Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce President, said the 1,500 tickets for th event sold out in just six days - the fastest they've ever been snatched up.
Kilmer said he wasn't sure what the future of the event will be, but he expects the organizers will discuss whether to expand it for next winter.
"The organizers have to look at it, whether they want to grow it or whether they want to maintain it as it is," he said. "But nobody can doubt that this has been highly successful. You draw people into the county from all over. It's huge. The money spent here is [huge], and it's not just here. They're going to go leave here, and they're going to have to get their gasoline locally. They're going to have to shop at local stores."
Jon Miller of Oppenheim and Scott Hojohn of Johnstown have attended the event every year and said they do so to see their friends. And it's something to do in the middle of the winter.
"It's better than sitting at home. You get to ride your four-wheelers and sleds," Miller said. "There are a lot of people here. All of your friends come out."
Stutzke said next year the organizers are going to increase the prize money offered in the competition.
"We're gonna really blow the roof off this thing as far as prizes and the amount of cash given out," he said.
John Borgolini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.