Derby changes welcomed by most

Bill HiltsDerby fishing on Lake Ontario is big business. The Lake Ontario Counties (LOC) Trout and Salmon Derbies alone see upwards of 12,000 derby entries for its three contests each year. While some of those are cross-overs, the contest consistently records anglers from upwards of two-thirds of the states in this country registering for the events – 30-something states that have residents competing in these big fish competitions.

Back in the days of the Empire State-Lake Ontario (ESLO) derbies, the early days of the salmon and trout fishery in New York, derby maven Dick Schleyer of Rochester would see more than 12,000 anglers in one contest! Those were the derby days, when the lines at the launch ramps were over an hour long and the fishing craze was at its peak.

Dave Chilson, current president of the LOC events, was a part of the old ESLO team that handed out checks to fishermen for two decades. Like with anything, he’s had to tweak the rules and evolve with the times. In 2013, he will be making some significant changes to his three contests that have been accepted so far by a majority of the angling community.

At the top of the list is a new prize structure that will see the grand prize checks increase for all three of his contests. The spring derby will now be $15,000; the summer event will offer a check for $10,000; and the huge fall event will see a check for $25,000 up for grabs … all for the biggest salmon.

In the past, it was always the largest salmon or trout caught in the derby. Previously, we’ve seen a lake trout win in the spring and last year a lake trout came within days of winning the fall event. Chilson made the change to keep the lake’s focus on the mighty Chinook salmon – the “king” of Lake Ontario.

“That’s our big money fish,” says Chilson. “We need to keep that in the forefront of our promotion efforts. That is our big draw to the lake.”

While all the fish species categories are the same as last year in the spring and summer contests, the fall derby will have the lake trout removed from any contention by eliminating the category. The money that was in place for that division will be moved directly over to the salmon division, doubling the prize structure for salmon.

“Lake trout is a federal program that has been struggling due to disease and other hatchery issues,” says Chilson. “This was our way to help protect some of the bigger lake trout while at the same time emphasize the importance of king salmon.”

Another change affects anglers in the Lower Niagara River. After complaints the last couple of years by shore fishermen in the Devil’s Hole area, Chilson was forced to close that area off to any kind of shore fishing. Starting this year, the boundary line for shore anglers in the river will be the Lewiston-Queenston bridge. Bank casters may venture no further south than that structure if they want to enter a fish into the derby. While unfortunate, it takes away an area that has become a problem for the derby relating to enforcement of the rules. Low water is the culprit. However, boat fishermen can still motor up to Devil’s Hole and catch legal fish.

Not everyone is in favor of competition fishing. That said, however, it has certainly brought the awareness level up for the quality of the Lake Ontario sportfishery. For that we can be thankful. Lakeshore communities rely on this economic boon and if you are looking for an excuse to go fishing, this is a great one. For more information on the LOC contest, check out www.loc.org. The first derby in 2013 kicks off May 3 and runs through Mother’s Day. Sorry, Mom …

Categories: New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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