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The History of the Almost-Annual New York State Crappie Derby
The New York State Crappie Derby was founded in late 1973 when two members of the Whitney Point Sportsmens Association were enjoying a "beverage" while discussing the excellent ice fishing at, what was then known as the Whitney Point Reservoir. Crappies were responding well to bait being offered by the local anglers. The weather was also very nice and the discussion led to "why not . . .". A few phone calls were made and the event was on. In a few weeks time, a $150 purse was assembled and some posters were distributed. In early 1974, 197 people gathered on the ice and had a lot of fun. A lot of fish were taken and all went away satisfied. That's when the invention started. The Whitney Point Sportsmens Association decided that it should be made an annual event.
Over the course of the next couple of years, it evolved into what is known today as the "party derby". Ice derbys at that time typically registered anglers at the beginning of the day and weighed and measured their fish at the end of the day. People had fun but we wanted to add a little excitement. We evolved an event whereby a judging area with a Public Address system was set up in the middle of the ice and prizes were awarded each 15 minute period from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM. This encouraged a lot of coming and going across the ice. The rules were kept at a minimum and we added additional prizes to the event.
The lake, now called Whitney Point Lake, lent itself well to this event structure. Whitney Point Lake is about 3 1/2 miles long and 3/4 miles wide. The lake was developed as a flood control reservoir and impounded the Otselic River. The impoundment is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A river channel about 20' deep follows along the West side of the lake. The crappies (Calico Bass) thrived and multiplied. A county park (Dorchester Park) was developed at the southeast area and provided a base of operations with excellent parking. Broome County Department of Parks and Recreation saw this event as a way to promote the park during the off-season. The parks department joined us in a joint venture. Now it really took off.
Prizes, from the beginning, were solicited from local merchants. They took the form of cash, merchandise and gift certificates. The prizes were distributed across the 28 derbys (15 minute segments, 8 AM to 3 PM) and more significant prizes were awarded for the biggest crappie of the day (1st, 2nd & 3rd). Additional prizes were awarded for the first caught (or biggest) of numerous fish species.
Until 1977, we had been blessed with good weather which helped the event catch on. Then it happened. In 1977 mother nature decided to throw us a curve. On derby day, the weather never climbed above zero and the winds were raging. 20-30 MPH winds were blowing people across the ice. There was 28 inches of ice to drill through but 301 very brave souls ventured forth. It was, by far, the most demanding day in the history of our event to date.
By 1978, the purse expanded to $1,000.00 and we saw over 1,000 participants register. by 1985, the purse had expanded to over $2,000.00. Unfortunately, little information exists for the 1987, 88 and 89 events. By 1995, the purse exceeded $5,000.00 and in 2000 the purse exceeded $10,000.00.
Along the way,
- It became an excuse to get outdoors - a "cabin fever" issue. The number of spectators far outnumber registered anglers. It is the place to see and be seen.
- The event now sports a concession stand, providing hot and cold drinks, along with chowder, chili, hot dogs and such. Port-a-johns eliminate some of the discomfort.
- Through the efforts of the Whitney Point Sportsmens Association, it has become a "kid & family friendly" event. A significant amount of the purse is set aside just for the kids. A few committee members are assigned to wander the ice looking for young ones who look bored, tired, cold or whatever and find a reason to give them a prize.
- The local Point of Light Masonic Temple jumped on the band wagon many years ago and started a Pancake Breakfast to add to the day. The breakfast starts around 5:00 AM and feeds many hundreds of people on "Derby Day".
- During the Eighties, softball On-The-Ice found its' way into the program. Our records are a little sketchy on this but a number of teams from the Central and Southern Tier NYS organized and had a lot of fun on the ice. trophies were awarded and nobody died. We have tried to "jump-start" this a few times but it never caught on again. Maybe some day!
- A number of times, weather did not smile down on us and insufficient ice existed on our planned date. In each case, the event moved to its' two week postponement schedule. That is until . . .
- Along came 1990 and 1991 - Mild Winters became fashionable and an an insufficient blanket of ice never formed. The derby was postponed for two consecutive years. 1990 was to be our 25th Annual event and all sorts of events, on and off the ice, were planned. But after two years in a row of inadequate ice, we lost the momentum and the big celebration never took place. At this time, The New York State Crappie Derby took on the name of the Almost-Annual New York State Crappie Derby.
- We have had many visitors across the years. The New York State Department of Environmental Commission attended one year. A milestone event that year included our first tent burning to the ice. (All escaped without injury). We have hosted exchange students who had never seen ice outside the refrigerator must less walked on it. This is always a treat for us. Congressman James Walsh, (__th congressional district) attends frequently as does our own Senator Tom Libous (NYS __th district). Both are avid fishermen and good friends of the derby. I wish I could say they have caught many fish but we won't go there.
- We started placing emphasis on the "kids" about mid-way through our run. Over the years, more and more of the purse was targeted to the youngsters. This is one of the best things we do. WPSA representatives scour the ice looking for our "future outdoors caretakers" and find reason's to award a prize from one of our sponsors. This is when the event truly became "family friendly". Any time fees were charged, those participants 12 and under were exempted.
- In ____, Broome County Parks required that a fee be charged for county parks usage. The fee was set at fifty cents and, in an effort to avoid accumulating a large number of quarters that might threaten ice safety, the WPSA added an additional fifty cent fee bringing the total to $1.00. Up till this time, the derby was a FREE event - unheard of. We never heard one complain about the fee. The WPSA decided to take their share of the fee (50 cents) and pass that back to the community. Each year, a local cause (e.g. youth sports, senior citizen activities, etc) was selected and several hundred dollars was presented to them complements of the derby.
The reservoir houses many species of fish waiting to satisfy the eager angler. There are many Walleye and Perch along with occasional Northern Pike, Bullhead, Catfish and White Rocks. The "then" state record White Rock was taken in the reservoir few summers ago - 10 lb. 6 oz - how'd you like to get one of these on a jig rod? The DEC has since (1989) stopped stocking hybreds in Whitney Point Lake. The largest Crappie taken at the 24th derby was 15 ˝ Inches, taken by Shaun Gotthardt of Hancock, NY. This tied a 15 ˝ inch crappie caught by Russ Pickins of Newark Valley in 1994.
There are many Walleye and Perch along with occasional Northern Pike, Bullhead, and Catfish. At one time the state record White Rock was taken in the reservoir - 10 lb. 6 oz - how'd you like to get one of these on a jig rod? In 1989 the DEC stopped stocking hybreds in Whitney Point Lake. The largest Crappie taken at the 24th derby was 15 ˝ Inches, taken by Shaun Gotthardt of Hancock, NY. This tied a 15 ˝ inch crappie caught by Russ Pickins of Newark Valley in 1994.
Prizes, in addition to the 15 minute "special derbies" between 8am and 3pm, include major prizes for the largest Crappie of the day (1st, 2nd & 3rd) along with prizes for the largest fish of a number of other fish species. Prizes are also awarded for largest fish (weight) of the day for many fish species and door prizes assure that everyone has a shot at some prize. To win you must be registered. You can register at local bait shops starting a few days before the event or at the Pancake Breakfast. Registration will also take place on the ice starting at about 7:00am.
The 1998 and 1999 running of the Annual NYS Crappie Derby were cancelled due to insufficient ice. Throughout the entire winter of 1997-98 the maximum ice thickness was only 5 inches. The previous winter, we had a 12 inch growth, lost it completely and grew a second 12 inch slab. That has never happened before in the previous 25 years. In 1999 we had 14+" of ice but a prolonged January thaw did us in. The 1998 Derby was to be a Free Fish Day at the Lake. But the cancellation did this in as well. It was all approved by NYSDEC. This was the first year that we projected a $10,000 Purse. We were able to exceed the $10,000 in the 2000 Derby.
The 2002 Derby was cancelled due to insufficient ice.
The 2004 Derby
provided lots of stress. Ice came on briefly in early December but promptly
left. We had some very warm weather during December and the water
temperature increased significantly. Ice came on in early January and we had
some very cold weather. It was the second coldest January in history. But. .
. the ice went quickly to 3 inches, then to 5 inches. . . still cold weather
. . . it slowly rose to 6 inches . . . more cold weather then to 8 inches.
Eight days before the derby it increased to 9 1/2 inches and after a bitter
cold weekend we managed to see 12 inches the Monday before the derby. We got
the go-ahead to have the derby. During an extremely bitter cold week, it
barely increased to almost 14 inches. No one was able to explain the slush
that formed on the ice in certain spots. This slush did not freeze for some
reason. We also had quite a lot of snow on the ice Derby Day. The prize
cutoff was loosely enforced and a lot of donations came in at the last
minute. We ended up with a $15,000 purse. The fish were decent sized but
typically slow biting. The cold weather Wednesday & Thursday impacted
attendance - especially the percentage of those 12 and under. The
temperature reached 19 degrees and a late morning wind increased to
uncomfortable levels (25+ mph gusts). It was a good derby but attendance
The 2005 Derby was in winter that started off slow. Ice-On occurred just before Christmas and was 8 inches well before the derby with lots of cold weather following. Surprise - it grew very slowly from then but did get to 10+ inches a week before the derby and reached about 13 inches on derby day. A few days prior to the derby, the cold set in. Minus teens for a few days prior to the derby and derby morning saw about minus 15. It warmed up to -10 but 8 AM and hit +20 about 2 PM.
This year, attractions on the ice included: the National Weather Service, the Ross Park Zoo (a falcon, an owl and a huge rabbit), the Whitney Point EMT squad, a representative from the NYS DEC Fisheries, the Broome County Sheriff's Communication Mobile, Gander Mountain Demos and Lowe's of Binghamton providing craft kits and personnel to assist the kids in assembly. Attendance was down, most likely due to the cold weather leading up to the derby. The big fish attraction was a 27 inch 7.2 pound Walleye caught by Bob Arnold of Johnson City, NY.
The 2006 derby was cancelled due to insufficient ice. It was "nip 'n tuck" throughout the winter but we never did accumulate enough ice thickness to allow the event to go on. This one went in the history books as a non-event. The fish were biting fairly well at "first ice" but tapered off quickly. It was a slow season for fish. We grew fairly good ice up to early January but then the water temperature started rising above 32 degrees (33, 34, 35) which kept things at a standstill.
The 2007 Derby was again cancelled due to insufficient ice. There never was sufficient ice up to the postpone date of February 10, 2007. Following that date, there was additional ice growth but, as it was not tracked due to the cancellation, it is not known whether we did gain any significant additional growth. It is highly unlikely that enough ice existed to conduct the ice. This was the 3rd time the event has been cancelled two straight years. It has never been cancelled for 3 consecutive years. This year, the water temperature never got down to 32 degrees until mid January. We just ran out of time.
The 2008 Derby planning started out well. We had first ice on December 5, 2007 and the ice grew slowly to 4 inches by 12/21/07. On Saturday, December 22, 2007, the temperature went up into the lower 50s and we received about an inch of rain. The runoff caused severe degradation of the ice. The weather continued to moderate through the next two weeks.
Derby planning started out much the same as 2008 above. Early first ice,
some good fishing. The ice stabilized for a short while then we lost some
(but not all of the ice). Ice came back in early January and built to 5 or 6
inches. It was a good solid base and the ice level was kept well. In another
week it had grown to about 8 - 10 inches. Ice progressed very slowly and it
was nip & tuck for quite a few days. By our decision date, January 26th a
good foot of ice was declared and we were given the go-ahead.
The day of the derby, we enjoyed ice thicknesses of 14-15 inches. Weather was a little cold (teens) in the morning but the wind cooperated. We had a few gusts in the mid-late morning but in general the weather was quite nice. The crappies hadn't been biting well for a few weeks but we managed to tease enough of them of legal size out of the water to have an entry during each of the 29 15 minute contests from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Our sponsors were sufficiently generous to allow a purse of over $7,500, with many prizes coming in even during the derby.
We had to relearn a lot this year due to the 3 year hiatus. It didn't go as smoothly as we are used to but it did go well. We had a lot of kids and were able to insure that most of them went home with something. Our final committee meeting following the derby concluded the event was a very big success.
1. Winter was slow in starting. First ice wasn’t on until around the third week in December. It grew slowly and fishing started after a cold snap brought ice the weekend of the 19th of December.
2. The ice grew fairly quick with the channel and the pond area showing the same thickness until around January 20th 2010. The ice growth on the channel stalled about the 22nd while the pond area continued to grow (to about 10-11 inches on the 20th.
3. On January 23rd, warm weather invaded and on the 25th, a heavy rain brought over an inch of water. The Broome County Parks was unable to get an ice reading and notified the WPSA to postpone the event to February 13th. The notices were sent out at noon on Monday 1/25/10.
4. The purse hit $10,000.00 by January 23rd.
5. By January 27th, the lake level had raised about ten feet. Of course, the ice pad broke loose from the shore.
6. By February 1st,called by Broome County Parks director to advise that there was a big problem with the parking facilities. The lower lots were covered with ice and there were not going to be any opportunities to plow the grassed areas because of the fresh turf from last spring.
7. By Friday, everything looked good and I was advised that we could schedule the event even though we normally wait until Monday to take a final check. Was very surprised by this. Sent out news release.
8. Derby was conducted on schedule but had a low turnout. The weather was cold (seasonal) but the winds were not too bad. For the first time, the participants were scattered widely on the ice. From up near the end of the West road down to the spillway. Registration was very low (1,331 ). We believe that many of the participants were not registering. Nothing we could do. The derby was also conducted the day before Valentine’s Day. Postponements always seem to sap attendance.
9. It was a very good derby. Lots of activities (Gander with demos and seminars, Finch Hollow, Ross Park Zoo, Underwater Rescue Team demo, on-ice radio.
1. Ice-On occurred around December 9, 2010.We had a rain event on January 13, 2010 that caused a lift of about one foot in the lake level. It returned to normal level in a few days. Crappie fishing was mediocre at first. Lake ice conditions grew slowly from 2 inches to about 4 when we had a rain event that caused a slight lake elevation. The ice re-healed quickly and the ice continued to grow. . . but slowly. The ice hit 12 inches the week before the scheduled derby date.
2. We started looking for a sponsor for a Lifetime NYS Fishing License giveaway in early December. It wasn't until the second week in January that the Southern Tier Chapter of Pheasants Forever came forward to sponsor this giveaway. Town of Triangle Clerk's Office graciously offered their assistance to support this prize.
3. The Whitney Point Rotary contacted us with an offer to support and control an public ice skating rink on the lake. Permission was given by the Parks Department to place the rink just offshore near the North Pavilion.
4. The purse hit $13,500 by January 28, 2011.
5. The 2011 running is now in the History Books. From my own warm feelings and the comments I heard during and following the event from our guests and the TEAM of club members and Parks employees, I believe this can be considered in the top five of all Crappie Derby's. We had the perfect storm from a positive viewpoint -- There was no postponement, the weather was quite good, we had some new events and we continue to build on the WPSA TEAM that forms the manpower to conduct the derby. The team has evolved to: an overall coordinator and chairmen/women of the following SubCommittees: Food Concession, Buildings, Prize collection/distribution, Registration, Raffles, Judging and our Announcer. Each of these Chairs has their own group of volunteers. All have a passion for the derby. THAT'S what makes the derby the success it is today. Broome County Parks and Recreation, along with Broome County Security, make the event possible with their dedicated personnel. They provide rock-solid support and flexibility, which is very important to make an event of this "iffyness" happen.
* This year we had Professional Ice Anglers assigned to our event by large outdoor equipment manufacturers/distributors (each actually volunteered for the event). Some of them were at the derby last year and provided services then also. These representatives conducted seminars (on the ice) for people who were not experienced in our sport. They demonstrated the latest technical/state-of-the-art equipment available and assisted our guests with fishing techniques. It was a great addition to our derby. As the derby disassembled, they all expressed an interest in attending again next year. (Maybe they tell that to everyone?) I guess my ego is big enough to believe it. A lot of kids were very pleased with the assistance these Pros provided. I received many positive comments.
* We had our first LIMO this year. A group of ladies arrived by Limo, dressed to the "Nines" to celebrate one of the groups member's birthday. This group of ladies, all in Tiaras and lots of jewelry, had attended the first derby in 1974 and many others up to the mid 90s. They were doing a "road trip" down memory lane to celebrate. The Derby Committee, BC Parks and BC Security were happy to assist them in their celebration. It was a surprise to the "honoree" and lots of fun was had by all.
* This year, the Southern Tier Chapter of Pheasants Forever provided a prize of a lifetime NYS Fishing License to a youngster between the age of 10 to 16. Paul Houle, the Founder of the Southern Tier Chapter, was on hand to present the Prize. The Town of Triangle Clerk, Sandra Martin, graciously donated her time on Saturday to attend, confirm the eligibility of the recipient and arrange for the license to be written. Paul Houle also presented a challenge to other outdoor oriented organizations to step up to the plate next year to upgrade this award to a NYS Lifetime Sportsman's License. I hope that they're beating down our door next year.
* This year, the skating rink previously discussed, came off on schedule. The Whitney Point Rotary representative who made this happen, Jim Petrie, advised me that that it went over very well. The ice could have been a little better, he stated, but we'll learn from it and improve it next year. He says "it will return".
* We had ten states represented at the derby this year and forty-six of the sixty two New York State Counties represented.
* The Broome County Underwater Divers Rescue Team appeared this year for the second time. A large hole was cut in the ice and divers went into the frigid waters. A large crowd gathered around during their demonstrations. There was a lot of interest and the divers expressed an interest in returning next year.
1. In September 2011, Tropical Storm Lee flooded the Southern Tier of NY wiping out a number of businesses, including Gander Mountain in Johnson City, NY. After a lot of uncertainty, Gander Mtn announced that it would not be opening in the near future. This had an impact on the ProStaff usually provided by the major outdoors manufacturers/Marketers. It appeared that we may not have them available for seminars for the kids this year.
2. December weather was unusually warm and only provided a couple of ice 'skins' at the southern end of the lake. These skins were gone by noon of the following day. By the first of January, there was no ice on the lake and weather forecasts for the next few weeks did not appear to provide any encouragement.
3. The first week in January, spent over an hour with the National Weather Service. We compared the extensive ice growth history kept by the Derby Committee with the computer weather models available at this time. Also compared potential ice growth, again using historical data and long range weather possibilities. We reached a conclusion that there was NO possibility of an ice growth sufficient to support the derby for the January date. We then compared data for February possibilities for considering a postponement. We took into consideration our experiences in the past with February postponements (considerations included the sun now climbing higher in the sky and the daytime ice erosion effect). Again, this information along with longer range computer models again led us to only failure.
4. The derby committee meeting was held on Wednesday, January 4, 2012. After reviewing the information assembled in #3 above, the committee unanimously voted to cancel this years' event. The chairman was asked to get the approval of the Broome County Parks department prior to releasing this information. It was felt that we do our participants no favors by letting the event hang in the balance and experience the uncertainties of postponements. This way, our followers were now able to plan future winter weekends.
5. A draft News Release was sent to the Broome County Parks Commissioner followed by a phone discussion. The commissioner agreed with our position and the news release was sent officially the next day.
6. The weather and ice conditions over the next few weeks substantiated our predictions very accurately. The ice over the pond area of Whitney Point Lake never had an official reading of over 7 inches.
7. A couple of records were set:
a. It was the earliest derby cancellation ever.
b. It was the latest "First Ice" in our history
c. It was the least amount of maximum ice we have records for.
8. We would be remiss not to mention the sad deaths of at least 3 ice anglers in our immediate region due to this unusual weather. Our cancellation was sent out Thursday, January 6. Two anglers were lost through the ice the following weekend and an additional angler was lost within days just across the border in PA.
9. There never was more than 9" of ice this season.
2012-2013 History (so far)
December was snowy but warmer than usual. There was no ice on Whitney Point Lake up till December 29, 2012 and then it was only a little ice around the edges. Lo and Behold, on January 1, 2013 there was enough ice for, at least, one lonely angler to be on the ice. We can't speak for the thickness of the ice on that day but it must have formed on December 31, 2012 and thickened to around 2 inches almost overnight. During the first few days of January, seasonally cold weather found it way here to allow some ice improvement but not nearly enough to allow planning for the last Saturday in January date. The derby committee recommended that we postpone and shoot for the February 9, 2013 date. A news release soon followed. A few warm days followed. A cold snap came along the third week in January that produced some ice growth (to 6 "). Over the next few days, we were able to get readings of 9 inches but then Mother Nature threw another whammy at us. Heavy rains came (2 inches or so) and the lake level was raised over four feet. This brought us to the weekend prior to the 'decision date Monday' prior to the rescheduled derby date. The Friday prior, we could not access the lake due to this higher lake level. At one week prior to the reschedule date we were faced with:
- No lake access to do high lake level
- Ice likely to be less than 9 inches
- Raised water temperature due to stream runoff
- A forecast of moderate Winter conditions for the week prior to the event.
The key to the weather in December and January of 2013-14 was "Up and Down".
Ice On 12/9/13 - light unsafe covering. 12/13/13 - 2 to 3 inches on the Pond Area and unsafe ice over the channel. 12/17/13 Dorchester Park reported 3 to 5 inches on the pond area and 2+ on the channel. Unseasonable warm weather predicted for 12/21-12/23. This bout of weather caused a 9" increase in the lake level and probable ice distruction. By December 27 the lake level was within a foot of normal and the ice thickness was at 3". The rain and snow coverage actually resulted in an increase in ice quality -- nice clear blue ice. Following Christmas we saw a few days in the upper 30s then the next week it went back to warm for a few days. Up and down! There was one days in Dec when we received around an inch of rain.
The first full week of January, record wind chills but went back to warmer weather by the end of the week. Snowfall was nearly 4" by the 7th of January. The second week saw a couple of cold days but by the weekend, back to very warm (40s-50s) and an inch of rain on the 11th. Then warm all through mid month. This gave us under a half foot of ice by end of January and another 1 1/2 inches by the 15th. At this point we have 6 days prior to our "decision" date and generally only average temperatures. On the 20th (Decision Day), we had 7.5 inches on the channel and 8.5 on the pond. Nice ice but no cigar! We were now hopeful for our postpone date. Bitter cold was then the prediction and the fact. On the decision date for the postpone date (2/3/14) enough ice and were given the "GO" for the event.
On Derby Day, it was -20F on the ice at 5:30 and was -15F at the start of the Derby (8 AM). There was no wind and a cold heavy blanket spread over the ice until it had moderated to 0 F around 10:30. After lunch the temperatures came up to about 20 F or a little higher. The crowd was around 3,200. . . Two postponements + the bitter cold held things back. The purse was the highest yet and there were many activities for those browsing rather than fishing. We also Door Prizes from 8:30 to 2:30 for those who registered and didn't catch a fish (or even 'wet a line'). Due to the postponement and bitter cold, we have to put this one in the books as a huge success.