A fine day for fishing

Randy Gardinier, president of the Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation, measures fish during the federation's annual ice-fishing contest Saturday while John Fura, a federation director, records the numbers. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)


The Walleye Challenge and the Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation ice-fishing contests were back in operation Saturday– after two years of warm winter weather that put them literally on thin, and sometimes heaving, ice and forced their cancellation.

The years 2016 and 2017 were frustrating for event organizers and for avid fishermen, some of whom took time to come from other states. But this year was different.

The Walleye Challenge flier came out on Nov. 6, 2017, and, by Nov. 14, the 1,750 registrations were sold out, according to Lou Stutzke, a coordinator of the event.

Signups came in so quickly that locals such as Bill Dingman of Broadalbin missed a spot. “I didn’t get in so I told Louie I’ll help out,” he said.

Greg Baumgras of Delmar is gigging for a fish while Joe Rogers of Cazenovia, center, and Ben Rogers of Amsterdam watch at the annual Walleye Challenge on the Great Sacandaga Lake Saturday. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

The federation contest had 356 entries, still a healthy number but about 25 to 30 fewer fishermen than usual. Randy Gardinier, federation president, attributed that to the two years of cancellations. “Some of these people have to get back into this contest,” which has gone on since the last century, he said.

The weather couldn’t have been better on Saturday with bright sunlight, clear skies, not much wind, and temperatures a little below freezing. While the lake surface was heavily rutted with truck and snowmobile tracks, the ice was about 24 inches thick, Stutzke said.

“This is one of the best days we’ve had since we’ve had the [Walleye] contest,” said Tony Sala of Amsterdam, who said he has been at the event every year.

“Some years we been almost blown off the lake.”

The Walleye and federation competitions are deliberately scheduled for the same day so that anglers who catch northern pike, trout and yellow perch have a chance for prizes in the federation event. In 2016 and 2017, the contest were set on Jan. 31 but moved to Feb. 17 this year in the hopes of better weather. Even during the years of cancellation, prizes were awarded by drawings, and the day was still a social event.

Matt Wood of Amsterdam, left, with the help of Kevin Ward of Broadalbin, brings in his three pike and a perch to be measured Saturday morning at the annual fishing contest sponsored by the Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation. The pike measured 36 5/8, 36 3/4 and 36 3/4 inches and the perch, 14 3/4. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

Ben Rogers of Amsterdam and Greg Baumgras of Delmar have been regular Walleye participants. Rogers said he hasn’t caught a fish in seven years, while during the four years Baumgras has attended “the fishing hasn’t been fruitful yet,” Baumgras said.

“But I have a good time fishing, good times, and good friends,” he said.

Zach Goss came for the Walleye Challenge from Dunstable, Mass. “It’s a great experience,” he said.

“It gives something to the kids. Everyone welcomes you with open hands.”

Winners of the contests will be publicized once results are tabulated.

Ice-fishing shanties, snowmobiles and trucks are in the background of a weigh station at the Broadalbin Boat Launch for the Walleye Challenge on the Great Sacandaga Lake Saturday. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff Colin Henessey of Mayfield is about to weight a fish caught by TJ Sala of Amsterdam wth Tony Sala, also of Amsterdam to his left, at a weigh station at the Broadalbin Boat Launch for the annual Walleye Challenge on the Great Sacandaga Lake Saturday. Henessey, along with Jordie Quickenton of Perth and Sara Belanger of Broadalbin, volunteered to man the station. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)