For the 41st year in a row, Colonie Town Park was overtaken by gaggles of young children and teenagers vying to catch the biggest fish.
The West Albany Rod and Gun Club held its annual Fishing Derby for kids ages 5 to 15 last Saturday, June 6. This year, the trophy for the biggest fish went to 14-year-old Nick Poesse, who reeled in a 24.5-inch carp, while the youngest winner, 7-year-old Bryce Penpraze, took first place in the peewee division for a 17.5-inch small mouth bass.
Other winners were Scott Tuzzolo, 15 years old, who caught a 10.5-inch perch, and 13-year-old Brooke Discipio for her 19.5-inch large mouth bass for the first prize in the senior and junior divisions respectively.
While last Saturday marked the first time competing in the derby for some winners, like young Bryce, whose mother said he has been fishing his whole life, others like Discipio have been competing for years. Discipio said she’s partaken in the Fishing Derby since she was about 3 years old, and she has taken home a trophy for all but one year.
“The first time, my dad brought me. I caught a huge fish,” Discipio recalled of her first derby competition. Discipio said that fishing has been a family tradition with her father and brother. Over the years, she has received 22 fishing trophies, not counting the one she took home Saturday.
“One year, I caught a huge bass that broke the line,” said Discipio. She said it was nearly bigger than her, and her father jumped into the water to help bring the fish in.
West Albany Rod and Gun Club member Ron Beauparlant told a similar story. He said that, several years ago, the derby’s youngest winner yet, a girl of only 4 years old, caught a 28-inch carp weighing in at 12 pounds.
“Dad had to practically haul it out,” said Beauparlant. “There was no more than two- or three-inches difference in height.”
The derby began with the late Bud Male as a memorial competition before it turned into a derby. His son, Bruce, is still a member and organizes the event. Bruce said that he remembered when the competition started out and the Rod and Gun Club members would go around to businesses to get donations for prizes.
That practice had to stop when the derby organizers found they were receiving prizes too old for the kids, like dinners for two and gift cards to shops.
Now, the Rod and Gun Club uses cash donations to get the derby competitors prizes like new fishing rods, lures, camp chairs, and toys like racecars and doll sets for the younger fishers. Each participant gets a raffle ticket at the beginning of the day, so no one goes home empty-handed, said Beauparlant. And for every fish caught, the young competitor gets a prize.
Everyone also gets a certificate the Stewart’s for ice cream, and food and refreshments are donated for the day from vendors, as is the park and trophies by the Town of Colonie.
However, one tradition that has continued throughout the derby’s 41 years is the catch-and-release policy. The club tries to make sure no fish dies after being weighed and measured. Each fisher is given a bucket to carry their catch up to the weighing station.
If needed, club officials will put the fish in cold water and dump it from bucket to bucket in order to oxygenate the water. “We really try not to kill anything,” said Beauparlant.
Beauparlant said the club also tries to get environmental conservation officers and forest rangers out for the day as a good roll model for the young competitors, especially if the officer or ranger is a woman. He said most often the top winning fishers are girls from 9 to 11 years old.
“I think that would be a good roll model for the girls. A lot of these girls are serious fisherwomen,” Beauparlant said. One of the Rod and Gun Club’s goals is to promote outdoor sporting done safely and consciously. Some members are licensed instructors in hunting, archery and gun sports.
“We like getting them away from the computer, getting them outside and trying to teach them what’s going on around them,” he said.