Winter will be here before we know it. You run a really cool event called the Winter Classic. How long has this event been existence?
This will be the 4th season for the Winter Classic, although the first year was simply a trial run with a select group of anglers to see if there were any hurdles or problems that we overlooked to work out before we fully launched the event.
Without any significant winter tournament events in New York state, The Finders Keepers Sportfishing Team, my dad, brother and I, originally formed the NYS Ice Pro-Am Corporation back in 2012. We put together the NYS Ice Pro-Am Series of tournament events. These were multi-tiered events on multiple waterways that featured both a team event, pro-division, and a normal individual event, amateur-division.
We wanted to create something substantial here in NY to draw attention to our world-class fishery and work on getting more youth engaged in the sport of fishing. The concept turned out to be tough for most anglers to grasp and after several years of events seemed to be tailored to a small group of tourney anglers. Both my brother and father dropped out for personal reasons leaving me to run the company and taking on all financial liabilities.
We had talked about a large statewide event based on the concept of the current Lake Ontario Counties Derby events, the LOC events, but hadn’t put the wheels into motion yet for this unprecedented large-scale event. So I began to orchestrate the statewide Classic events by setting up the weigh-in network across the state.
Initially, we started with 30 stations, and the event was run with a select group of anglers to work out any issues. Then in the second year, there were 42 stations and 186 participant. Lat year, had 58 stations with over 500 participants. This year anglers will have over 60 locations to bring their fish with a shanty or power auger raffle to enter at every one. We expect to draw over 1,000 anglers to participate!
How is the tournament structured?
The event features 7 categories of fish to target, using any legal angling method, ice fishing, open water, rivers and tributaries, etc., fishing any time of day, and fishing anywhere in NY state waters from January 1st at 12:01 AM until Feb. 28th at midnight.
In each of the 7 categories, up to the Top 25 can place. This is based on the number of participants and how many places we are paying out. Those that place will receive a cash award according to the payout scale listed on the website. Additional cash and prize awards are given out to the overall largest fish, largest fish each week in each category, and monthly, all pending gear from sponsorships, number of participants, etc. We also have raffles at each weigh-in location for shanties or power augers to win. You can register at a shop or weigh-in a fish and receive an entry at that location.
How has the growth been of the event?
Last year we had 586 participants, and our goal for this year is to top 1,000. Many shops have mentioned people inquiring about the event this year, as well as anglers messaging tournament headquarters that indicates a strong anticipation for the upcoming event. Anglers like these events because there is no set day and time for the event…it lasts all season. So if a particular day is really bad weatherwise, they can fish the event another day.
Anglers can also capitalize on the fact that they can fish multiple events at the same time. If they are fishing another event, as long as it is not a catch & release event, they can weigh their fish in for both events. This event also allows anglers who specialize in panfish the same opportunity to win as those going for the larger species, including the Grand Prize, when available.
Do folks have to provide to you the specific bodies of water they caught their fish on?
No, anglers do not have to disclose the body of water the fish was caught on, however we will post where the fish was weighed in.
What have been some of the best bodies of water with registered fish in the tournament?
So far the overall best waterway has been Chaumont Bay. All the larger walleye and some of the other placing species have been caught there, including the largest fish last year, a 21 lb lake trout.
You have a lot of sponsors. How important are sponsors to making this event happen every year?
Sponsors were critical to helping get the event off the ground and to help maintain the longevity of the events. They help offset start-up costs and provide gear that we can use to entice anglers to get involved, and they give credibility to the event itself.
We have a very close relationship with them even now that the event has run for several years. We offer a tremendous amount of exposure for them and can put their newest gear on display and into the hands of anglers, who will then want more and make recommendations to their other angling friends. In return, we can offer our anglers a continued supply of gear for giveaways and prizes.
What are some of the rules that participants need to make sure they follow?
The most important is making sure to register by 7am on the first day you wish to enter fish. This prevents anyone from catching a placing fish and then entering, making it fair for all entrants.
Another one is our after hours protocol. Make sure to send headquarters a picture of the fish when caught and an approx weight, then weigh-in the fish the following morning. We’ll match up the picture with the official weigh-in to verify the catch.
Since this is a statewide event, if fishing a waterway near the border, anglers need to make sure they stay within NY state waters. Also, it goes without saying, that all NY state DEC rules and regulations need to be followed.
What are the biggest challenges of running a tournament like this?
As the director, there are many moving parts to orchestrate these events. Working with 70+ weigh-in locations has been the biggest challenge since there are so many different personalities, work ethics, etc. to work with, not to mention the geographic distances to each. So things like getting the weigh-ins and registrations in a timely manner has been tough, as well as outfitting each station with the supplies for the next event. The finances and tracking associated with these events are mind-boggling and a job in and of itself!
What have been your favorite moments in running the tournament?
The greatest moments are when I see the smiles of those who won, whether it be one of the divisions or a door prize, especially the youth anglers. Seeing these events take off is amazing and somewhat surreal for me, but it is very satisfying to see my hard work starting to pay off. I am excited to see just how big I can help make these events become! Maybe someday we’ll be giving away trucks each week and over $250,000 cash…
I told you this is a great event. Make sure to go to NYSWinterClassic.com and get registered if you will be fishing New York waters this winter!
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