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Anglers go in search of the 'big one'

May 07, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Kelli Brindle came home from college over the weekend to share some quality time with her father fishing along the banks of the Conococheague Creek, but they also ended up sharing more than $2,000 as she reeled in the big bucks at the 10th annual Chambersburg Noontime Lions Club Trout Derby.

"I split with Dad every year ... This is our ninth year in the Lions Club derby," said Brindle, a student at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. In past years, she and John Brindle did not have much to split at the end of the two-day tournament.

Kelli Brindle's tagged trout changed all that, and her father added to the booty with three fish worth another $150. She earned some money for college Saturday morning down by the bridge at Wilson College, about half an hour into the tournament.

"It didn't seem like that big a deal until we got here," Kelli said Sunday of checking in the small trout - maybe 10 inches long - at the derby headquarters at Southgate Mall.

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"He taught me everything I know about fishing," she said of her father. The first day of the trout season and the derby are a father-daughter tradition, she said.

Tournament Chairman Dean Martin said 1,321 anglers from as far as Colorado and Florida signed up with the hopes of their fish tales coming true, paying up to $23 to register, plus an extra $5 if they wanted to take part in the Big Trout Contest.

At 3 p.m. Sunday, Evan Graff of Elkland, Pa., was feeling a bit nervous. With four hours left in the derby, he was leading the competition for the biggest trout with a 24 3/4-inch, 7-pound, 10-ounce beast in a cooler possibly worth a cool $1,900.

"I had three different people trying to net it. It took quite a while to bring it in," said Graff, a veteran of the 2006 derby.

"I just hope it holds up," Graff said, who also hooked his trout near Wilson College at about 2 p.m. Sunday, using a salted minnow for bait.

It did, edging a similarly gigantic trout caught by John Brodner of Chambersburg.

"We had 18 monsters in the stream" tagged for the biggest fish competition, Martin said. Altogether, there were 629 tagged trout worth from $25 to $2,000 let loose in the creek for the fundraiser with $28,000 in payouts available, he said.

More than $18,000 in prizes were paid to anglers, including Eugene Keckler of Chambersburg, who caught a $1,000 trout, according to organizers.

"We've been told it's the best trout derby in the nation," said Lion Ed Heckman, who came up with the derby idea a decade ago.

This year, one lucky contestant had a shot at a $25,000 prize in the Lucky Trout Contest, Martin said. A drawing was held and the winner got a shot Saturday at netting the trout from a tank filled with 100 fish.

Gregory Brown of Chambersburg did not net the right fish, but got a $250 consolation prize, Martin said. The Lions bought insurance for that contest, he said.

Registration fees, Big Fish and raffle tickets, and food and souvenir sales were expected to net about $26,000 for the Noontime Lions Club and its charities, Martin said. One collector's item is sure to be the 1,500 T-shirts with Lions misspelled as "Loins."

"We have a new club salute," Heckman joked.

Charities and projects benefiting from the derby include $4,500 for vision examinations and eyeglasses for Chambersburg residents; $5,700 for Lions Club International and state projects; a $1,000 scholarship for a Chambersburg Area Senior High School graduate; and money for 17 other local charities and projects.

"We couldn't do it without the businesses," Martin said of the approximately 160 sponsors for the event.

"The whole community benefits," said Heckman, noting that anglers stay in hotels, eat at restaurants, shop at sporting goods stores and contribute to a number of good causes.

"The fishermen get a great weekend of fishing and get paid for their efforts," he said.

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