It’s one thing to sponsor an ice fishing derby. It doesn’t hurt, however, if you can get out there, in February temperatures that can easily slip below zero, and have some fun doing it.

I have been fortunate enough to have been at Crystal Beach in Castleton over the years and taken in the atmosphere at derby headquarters for both the Lake Bomoseen Ice Fishing Derby (set for Feb. 15 and 16) and the Great Benson Fishing Derby (Feb. 22 and 23). The Bomoseen derby is sponsored by the Castleton Lions Club; the Benson derby is sponsored by the Fair Haven Rotary Club.

Both derbies draw hundreds of ice fishermen from Vermont and around New England, offering impressive cash prizes for the heaviest fish brought in, but more importantly, both organizations that run the derbies take the proceeds from the events and return that money back into surrounding communities.

One morning, some years ago, I dropped by at Crystal Beach to take some photographs of the fish board — where the leading fish are on display — and to take down some notes about the event.

There was commotion not far from the Lions Club food shack and I could see three members, laughing with great joy, as they jostled a portable outhouse back and forth, back and forth. Inside, one could hear the protests of a man, a Lion’s Club member, cursing quite loud. It was one of those moments that stay imprinted on one’s brain. It was hilarious.

Lake Bomoseen Ice Fishing Derby

This is the 42nd year of the derby. John Burke, this year’s derby chairman for the Lake Bomoseen derby, said the Lions event is held without any administrative cost. “Every nickel goes back to the community,” he said.

“Take a look at Crystal Beach. Everything you see, both pavilions, the kids’ play equipment. The dollars we raised for these things came from the derby and our annual auction in August,” Burke said.

The biggest beneficiary of the proceeds, about $7,000, is scholarships for seniors at Fair Haven Union High School. Funds are also given to senior citizens and low-income residents for eye glasses and eye exams, Burke said.

The Lions Club also provides scholarships, for those in need, to the ever-popular youth conservation camp, held every summer at Lake Bomoseen.

In all, Burke said, “We probably pump at least $30,000 a year into these programs because there are no administrative costs.”

Burke said that during the fishing derby, Lions Club members get a great opportunity to enjoy themselves, as well as work the derby. “We try to have some fun, break bread, tell stories. There is a bonding together. When we’re out there, and it is cold and everything else, we know that what we’re doing is going to help a lot of people.”

Local businesses, which donate door prizes during the two-day derby, deserve a great deal of credit, Burke said. “We really couldn’t do it without the area businesses. They get hit up a lot, but they realize the dollars are going back to the community. I hope the community understands all that the business community does to support those people.”

Tickets are $20 and all fishing is restricted to Lake Bomoseen. Cash prizes for the heaviest northern pike, bass and trout will be awarded accordingly: $500 for first place, $250 for second, $125 for third and $75 for fourth place. The heaviest perch brought in will be worth $400 for first place, $200 for second, $100 for third and $50 for fourth place.

The Great Benson Ice Fishing Derby

This will be the 48th year the Fair Haven Rotary Club has sponsored the Great Benson Ice Fishing Derby. I remember, very well, taking a couple from out of state to the derby, back when it was held on Lake Champlain a good number of years ago. They were flabbergasted; they just could not believe that that many people could come out to participate in, as well as to observe, a bunch of fishermen, out on the ice, trying to bring in the biggest fish of the weekend.

While the Great Benson Fishing Derby is about ice fishing, the Fair Haven Rotary Club takes the proceeds from the two-day event and turns that cash back to educational incentives for local students. This derby offers the biggest prize money — $10,000 — of any ice fishing derby in the state.

Dave Calvi, chairman for the Great Benson derby, said proceeds from the derby allow the Rotary Club to disburse a good amount of money to local elementary and high school students.

“Our biggest one is scholarships at Fair Haven Union High School,” he said. “We give two scholarships at $2,500 each, based on achievement, but not only on grades.” Another scholarship involves sending a student off to a technical field, “a school for someone, say, studying photography or electrical training. Attending Vermont Technical College falls into that category,” Calvi said.

“Our second big thing is ‘Adopt a Family’ during the (Christmas) holidays. It is through Fair Haven Concerned. What we do is get a family through Fair Haven Concerned and distribute gifts for somebody who might need new boots. We buy them gifts,” he said.

The Rotarians also sponsor a Christmas holiday party at the Fair Haven Grade School and doled out $500 for the “Wreaths Across America” program, where 300 wreaths were laid at a local cemetery.

Finally, the Rotary Club annually sponsors a youth exchange program that, more than two decades ago, one of my sons was lucky enough to be a part of. It was a life-changing experience for Matthew, who spent a year in Belgium.

“We send a Fair Haven High School student to a foreign country and we receive a foreign student. This is a big feather in our cap,” Calvi said.

Last year, the derby sold more than 725 tickets. Tickets are $25 and derby headquarters will again be at Crystal Beach, right on Lake Bomoseen, in Castleton.

Prizes will be awarded in five categories: lake trout, other trout, walleye, northern pike and bass. First-place winners in each category will take home $600; second place is worth $300 and third place is $200. There is an additional prize of $300 for the biggest “other” fish. Anglers can fish in any Vermont water, as well as in Lake Champlain.

Calvi said there are lots of people who buy tickets to the event but don’t take part out on the ice.

“We give out $2,500 in cash to the winning ticket holder. You don’t have to be an angler. We sell a lot of tickets to locals who come by to see the fish board, who come by to see their neighbors, get a bowl of chili and maybe win a thousand bucks,” he said. The winning ticket is for $1,000, with three winners taking home $500 and four more winning $250.

Contact Dennis Jensen at d.jensen62@yahoo.com.

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