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Northern Challenge this weekend; hundreds of fishing enthusiasts expected

Dan McClelland

By Rich Rosentreter
The frozen landscape and ice shanties beginning to dot the area’s lakes means one thing – the annual Northern Challenge Ice Fishing Derby is coming to Tupper Lake and more than 1,000 fishermen are expected to compete for over $30,000 in prizes and cash in one of the region’s biggest fishing events.
The fishing derby will be held from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Saturday, February 4 at Lake Simond with registration starting at 4 a.m. So far this week, after weeks of unseasonably warm weather,  Mother Nature has been cooperating to provide ideal conditions for the competition.
“We were out on the ice last week and as of Monday last week there was 12-14 inches on the pond. It’s good and solid,” said organizer Dave McMahon of the Tupper Lake Rod and Gun Club, which is hosting the annual derby for the 18th year. “It looks like it’s going to be a pretty decent day for the derby.”
McMahon, who also serves as president of the Rod and Gun Club, has seen most of the fishing derbies as it is his 15th year as part of the Northern Challenge, and he said the recent years have been warmer than usual, a factor that threatened to thwart last year’s derby.
“Yesterday there was somebody on the lake who actually drove a truck out there. So far it looks like the weather is going to cooperate with us,” he said during an interviewa week ago.  Cold weather returned yesterday tightening everything up nicely.  “Last year, we had to wait to the day of the event to decide if we could hold the derby.”  That probably won't be the case this year, what with the cold temperatures predicted all this week.
According to McMahon, about 1,200 people are expected to attend the fishing derby, many traveling from across the country. The event, which is in a “catch and release” format, remains popular for fisherman and is not only a huge draw for the Rod and Gun Club, but also in the entire region, he added.
“It’s one of the biggest events for the Rod and Gun Club, and probably one of biggest (derbies) in Northern New York. We’ve got people coming in from seven different states right now,” McMahon said. “It’s not just Tupper Lake, it’s the surrounding area too. I’ve been looking for rooms for people, and we’re actually sending them as far away as Warrensburg, toward the Watertown area and the Malone area. Everything (hotels) in Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake, Lake Placid and Long Lake is filled. It’s good for the entire region.”
Derby details
    One of the greatest draws of the Northern Challenge is the prizes being offered for the biggest fish caught and other giveaways. The $35 registration fee for the derby includes the chance to win any of the prizes being awarded, McMahon said, adding that he is currently stockpiling the items that will be given away.
“We’re picking up prizes right now.  Two weekends ago, I was in Plattsburgh, and I picked up $3,000 worth of stuff from Gander Mountain. We’ve ordered stuff from Red Top Inn. This week I’m heading over to Blue Line Sports Shop to pick up some more stuff,” he said. “We’ve got about three or four insulated ice shanties to give away, ice augers, a complete set of tip ups, chairs and rods, a two-burner portable gas unit to cook with, a $500 underwater camera system, a $680 charter on Lake Ontario for four people, two ATVs. We’ve got a little bit of everything.”
    One additional charge is that of a “Lunker Pool,” which McMahon said he encourages people to take a chance in. The cost is $10 and participants could win a substantial amount of cash.
“The money we bring in we split in half. Half goes to the club and half goes to the person who catches the biggest fish of the day and is in the Lunker Pool,” he explained.
Among the other prizes being offered will be a total of $800 being given away every hour for the largest fish, ($500 for first place, $200 for second place and $100 for third place), more than $6,500 in miscellaneous door prizes and gift certificates and five 50/50 raffles offered by several local service organizations.
All prizes will be given away, but winners must be present to collect their prize, McMahon said. Cash prizes and machines will be awarded at 4 p.m. at the official truck and door prizes will be drawn at noon and must be claimed prior to 4pm. In the case of unsafe ice, all prizes will be given at noon by random drawings.
Food and beverages will also be available at the derby site adjacent to the Rod and Gun Club on Lake Simond Road. Food vendor Arthur’s BBQ will have its truck set up serving a variety of fare. McMahon said the vendor will also have a “very cute young lady” riding around on an all-terrain vehicle selling food on the ice-fishing area.
“We’re the only fishing derby that I know of that has a food delivery service out on the ice,” McMahon said.
A change
According to McMahon, there were not many changes made for this year’s fishing derby, except for perhaps one that took effect prior to last year’s event but could not be adapted in time to be added.
“Last year, the state changed the number of lines allowed in, it went from five to seven, but those changes were not used in that tournament as the fliers for the event were already printed and did not reflect the change,” McMahon said. “So now you’re allowed a total of seven lines. You can have six tip ups and a pole, any combination but you cannot have more than 15 hook points.”
He explained that there are mixed feelings on the change.
“Some people like the idea of having seven tip ups, some aren’t happy with it. But as long as that is what the law is and everybody is following the same rules that is all that matters,” McMahon said. “Those who do not like the change think that seven tip ups are too much for a small area such as the one where the Tupper Lake derby is being held. When you get on the big lakes, having seven tip ups is nothing. I’ve fished on some areas near the St. Lawrence, and you are allowed 15 (tip ups). If you’re fishing in a 10,000-acre lake, to one that’s got 1,500 acres, it makes a big difference.”
Fun for all
    The Northern Challenge will not attract only the fishermen, but their families as well. And there will be plenty for them to do, McMahon said.
 “A lot of people bring their kids up and the wives, if they don’t fish, they’ll head over to places like the Wild Center, they’ll go do the tourist thing in Lake Placid,” he said. “They’ll go over to Saranac Lake for the Winter Carnival.”
As for the kids, if they enjoy fishing, or have some interest, it could be a memorable time for them as well.
“The kids have just as much of a chance to win a $6,000 four-wheeler as the adults. They are entered into the same door prizes as the adults. Some kids can walk out of there with a $500 underwater camera system,” McMahon said, adding that he is always on the lookout to make sure the kids are having a good time. “I always have a bunch of stuff that I hand out to the kids whether they are fishing or not. During the day, if I see a kids walking by the prize trailer, I’ll call him or her over and ask what they like about fishing, and get them to speak on our p.a. system a little bit. Or give them a rod or a jig pole or something fishing-oriented. Number one, it encourages the kids to want to come back to our event. You give a kid something, and they are going to remember that. You are planning the seed not only to get out on the lake to do some fishing or some outdoor sports.”
After nearly 20 years of attracting hundreds of people to enjoy an Adirondack tradition, Tupper Lake’s own Northern Challenge will be an event not to be missed.
“It’s gotten to be a pretty good family affair type thing,” McMahon said. “I want everyone who comes here to know that the club appreciates their support. We do anything we can to make sure everyone has an enjoyable time and come back again next year. Everybody is here to have a good time.”
For more information on the ice-fishing derby, call Dave at 359-9715 or visit the Tupper Lake Rod and Gun Club website at