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Anglers turn fish into cash at derby

May 03, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Like Ahab's quest for the Great White Whale, fishermen return to the Conococheague each May in search of the Big Money Trout.

Some of the 1,170 anglers who signed up this past weekend have been coming to the Chambersburg Noontime Lions Club Trout Derby for the past seven years trying to hook a fish worth up to $2,000.

Ron Wyrick's search lasted about 20 minutes.

The Chambersburg man landed the top-dollar trout at about 8:45 a.m. Saturday along a stretch of the creek near the Nitterhouse Soccer Complex. It was the first time he entered the contest.

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"I still can't believe it was the big fish," Wyrick, 50, said Sunday. He and friend Russell Decker of Shippensburg, Pa., just wanted to get in a couple of days of fishing and figured that by entering the derby, "I was just making a donation."

The 13-inch brown trout will live to be caught again because Wyrick let it off the hook after retrieving the tag. The Letterkenny Ammunition Center employee kept on fishing after learning he caught the big one and fished Sunday until heavy rains hit in the late afternoon.

Greg Brown, 17, of Chambersburg, turned a few bread crumbs into a lot of dough. That was the bait he used to catch a 281/2-inch rainbow trout that weighed in at 9 pounds, 5 ounces, earning him $1,265 for catching the biggest fish.

For the avid angler, the derby is a chance to make some money while enjoying man's favorite sport. The tournament drew fishermen from as far away as New York, Ohio and South Carolina, according to Lion Doug Shisler and other club members.

Not having won in the past was no deterrent to many of the men and women who paid to be in the event.

"My third time in it and my first tag," said Randy Heckman of St. Thomas, Pa., as he checked in a $25 tag at the prize tent in the CVS parking lot off Loudon Street.

"I got a tagged one last year, but it was in July. Didn't do me any good," said Aaron Neil of Chambersburg, who has entered the derby every year but one. This time out, he netted $75 for two fish.

Russell Brown of Chambersburg brought in three tags that totaled up to $150, all caught Saturday.

"I had two $100 ones the first or second year," he said.

All told, the anglers reeled in $12,950 in prize money for tagged fish, the $1,265 for the biggest fish, $1,000 in raffle prizes and a $200 savings bond to one young angler.

The Lions Club expects to net about $14,000, according to Lion Dave Mummert. That money will be used to pay for eye screenings and glasses for those who cannot afford them, and to benefit other charities in the area, he said.

"This year we added a hunger drive," Shisler said. Anglers brought along about a truckload of canned goods and other food for the Chambersburg Food Pantry, he said.

Early registration was $13; the fee was $20 for those who signed up after mid-April. Many paid $5 extra to take part in the big-fish contest and the raffle, and the Lions also raised money through sales of food and refreshments, bait and souvenir hats.

Scores of sponsors put up $24,000 in prizes this year, about $4,000 more than last year, Shisler said. The Lions sponsored the $2,000 fish and a $500 fish, which also was caught.

The 573 fish from a fish hatchery in Newville, Pa., were tagged by club members Wednesday and dumped in the stream between Scotland, Pa., and the soccer complex Friday night, he said.

If a sponsored fish was not caught, Mummert said the Lions keep a 10-percent fee the sponsors paid upfront. By the 7 p.m. end of the derby, about half the tagged fish remained at large, according to Lion Doug Harbach.

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