GASPORT — A testament to the popularity of the annual Erie Barge Canal Fishing Derby can be seen on the early Leaderboard released by derby chairwoman Lynn Harrington this week.
On it, you'll see Colton Rabatin of Arizona listed currently in second place as of today in the Adult Walleye Division of the 29th derby, which began July 3 and concludes next Sunday, July 14th, on canal waters between Tonawanda and Albion.
In past years, leaders from other far-away states, including North Carolina, California and Florida have ventured to Western New York in the middle of summer and appeared on the derby leaderboard, but this is one of the first from the Grand Canyon State.
Tonawanda's Brian Hess is the first-place leader in the walleye division with a 5.78-pound catch.
Among other derby leaders as of today are a pair of Lockport men, Wayne Hale and Tyler Hillman. Hale leads the adult catfish division with a 8.53-pound catch, while Hillman's 4.92 pound bass leads that adult division.
Gasport's Richard Udell sits atop the adult bullhead division with a .96-pound catch and North Tonawanda's Ken Gram leads the adult carp division with a 21.52-pound catch to round out the derby leaders from Niagara County.
Tonawanda's James Nix Jr. leads the Northern Pike adult class with an 11.81-pound catch. Topping the sheephead adult division as of today with a 6.4-pounder is Buffalo's Carleen Beeback.
The first-place prizes at this year's derby is a new fishing boat, motor and trailer for the adult grand prize winner and a new kayak for the children's division winner. No kids entries have yet been made.
Interested derby participants can still sign up for the derby today at the following locations:
Les Allen’s Live Bait in Lockport (433-8983), Harrington’s in Gasport (830-8434), Evans Ace Hardware (585-798-4000) and Karen’s Kollectables (585-798-5430) in Medina, Niagara Outdoors in North Tonawanda (695-5873), Gander Outdoors (743-2300) in Tonawanda. All are derby weigh stations except Gander Outdoors. The cost to enter is $15 per person, $10 for those 14 and under, $25 per family and $5 for the cash bash.
Among the added prizes this year is the chance for participants to catch a tagged fish from a past derby. If that happens this year, unlike past years, the fisherman will earn a $50 gift certificate from one of the derby sponsors, T.C. Wheelers Bar & Pizzeria in Tonawanda (692-3632).
About 800 people sign up for the derby each year, which features seven divisions of fish (bass, walleye, Northern pike, bullhead, carp, sheephead and catfish) in both an adult division and kids division.
The derby's been recognized both by the state Legislature and nationally, by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, which stocks the canal with tagged fish for free. Those catching the fish earn derby prizes, while the wildlife service tracks the fish movement.
Last year, Gasport's Lee Hathaway and his daughter, Morgan, took home a new fishing boat, motor and trailer, a new kayak and a host of other prizes as the grand prize winners.
This year's annual derby banquet is 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 21st, at the familiar grounds of the Gasport Fire Company Hall.