Northern Pike Challenge draws hundreds to St. Lawrence River

William J. Ritchie, Heuvelton, removes a tip-up from water Saturday at Coles Creek State Park during the St. Lawrence River Walleye Association’s Northern Pike Challenge in Waddington. Photo by Jason Hunter/Watertown Daily Times.

LOUISVILLE — The roar of snowmobiles and ATVs sounded across the St. Lawrence River long before dawn Saturday.

Tents and shacks began to dot the frozen waterway alongside freshly drilled holes in the ice as hundreds prepared to test their luck in the seventh annual Northern Pike Challenge.

The tournament is one of St. Lawrence County’s largest ice-fishing competitions, hosted each year by the St. Lawrence River Walleye Association. It has grown every year; 865 adults and 64 youths took part Saturday.

The competition began at 7 a.m., but many participants took to the ice much earlier, in order to stake out the perfect spot and prepare their site so they would be able to dip their lines in the water as soon as the tournament started.

Chase W. VanTassel and Shea P. Adams, Massena, took their four-wheeler onto the ice at 1 a.m. Their early rising was not to pay off; the pair took in only one small pike all day.

“It was a little too early; we’re a little beat,” Mr. Adams said.

The pair’s result was not uncommon; many competitors shared stories of coming up empty at the end of the day.

“They caught them all around us, but we didn’t get anything,” said Stephen C. O’Brien, Massena.

Some had better luck. Prizes were awarded regularly, with $500 going to whomever caught the largest pike every hour.

Second and third places each hour were awarded $300 and $200, respectively.

Terry Russell had the biggest catch of the day, landing a whopping 13.11-pound pike in the third hour of fishing, along with a $100 bonus.

At 3 p.m., the competitors stowed their gear and packed up their trucks. They gathered at Sandy Beach to swap stories, cheer the victors and find out who won the annual raffle and wacky hat competition.

The entry fees from the tournament are used to support the St. Lawrence River Walleye Association’s programs, including its restocking efforts.

“Every single cent we take in goes right back into the river,” said association President Michael J. Gagner, who organizes the event.

Mr. Gagner does not participate in the tournament — he said that after raising three children who all loved to play hockey, he has developed an aversion to spending long periods of time on the ice.

Others are much more eager to spend their days on the river, huddled around a heater and waiting for a big bite.

“We fish every weekend we can, first ice to last ice,” said Dustin B. Taylor, Norwood.

Thomas M. O’Brien, Lisbon, said he has a simple winter philosophy: “It’s too cold to work; we’re going to go fishing.”

-Jacob Tierney, Watertown Daily Times staff writer