Northern Challenge Ice Fishing Derby Saturday

TUPPER LAKE – The Saranac Lake Winter Carnival isn’t the only big annual event happening this weekend.

The Tupper Lake Rod and Gun Club will host the Northern Challenge Ice Fishing Derby from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Saturday.

Event organizer Dave McMahon said there are almost 900 people registered so far for the derby this year, about 175 of whom are locals. That head count is on par with past events.

“Registrations always fluctuate a little with the economy and the price of gas, but we see a lot of people coming back year after year,” McMahon said. “We have people come from seven states, including New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut. Some guys come up annually from Virginia. They use the derby as a get-together.”

The influx of people does more than make for a successful derby day, and it also stimulates the local economy.

Stewart’s Shop Manager Jessica Wilson said she made the decision to keep the Park Street location open all night three years ago, and it literally doubled her profits for that Saturday. The business usually closes at midnight on Friday.

“They start getting up around 3 a.m. to get out on the ice,” Wilson said. “Between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m., I have a person on each register and a person making food who also runs back and forth making coffee. I basically make my entire daily sales between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.”

Five years ago, Wilson tried opening up at 3 a.m. on derby day, but the mob of people waiting to come into the store made it difficult to properly prepare to serve them. Switching to an all-night schedule made the pace saner.

Wilson also found that people getting into town after midnight on Friday would stop in at the rate of about 25 customers per hour.

“People are just in and out all night, trying to get their stuff ready for the derby,” Wilson said.

Northern Challenge competitors bring with them a competitive spirit to Tupper Lake.

Derby registration fees and several local organizations supply prizes for competitors. The Tupper Lake Dive Team, Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department, Adirondack Leathernecks (a group of former Marines) and the Tupper Lake Rod and Gun Club’s indoor shooting range and archery clubs all help sponsor the event by providing prizes.

Fishermen and women compete for more than $30,000 in money and prizes, including two four-wheelers. Each entrant’s registration number is put into a jug to win other miscellaneous prizes, many of which are purchased from local businesses.

“Throughout the day we pay $500, $200 and $100 every hour for the biggest three northern pike by weight,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the Rod and Gun Club uses leftover money from the derby to pay its bills and to help fund community programs like an eight-week archery class for kids starting Feb. 13. All bows, arrows and targets are provided.

“The Rod and Gun Club is involved in a ton of things,” Wilson said. “Any time one of our military people gets hurt, we’re always one of the first ones their to make a donation to the family to either help them get to where the family member is or to help them in any other way we can.”