GASPORT — Twenty nine years of All-American family fun and unforgettable outdoor experiences — and counting.
The 29th Stephen C. Harrington Memorial Erie Barge Canal Fishing Derby is slated July 3 to 14 on canal waters between Albion and the Tonawandas.
Three new sponsors, 50 tagged fish worth thousands of dollars in prizes, new prizes for catching tagged fish from years past and the annual grand prizes of a new fishing boat (adult division) and kayak (kids division) are up for grabs once again in the most ambitious derby to date.
“This was Steve's baby. We're just trying to keep it going for him,” said Steve's widow, Lynn Harrington of Gasport, who's entering her second year as derby chairwoman, following the death of her husband in late 2017. Steve founded the derby in 1990 in the hopes of better promoting the canal and bringing families and friends together.
“I have a lot of help with his brothers and my family my grandkids and my daughter and son. We gotta do it for him,” Lynn said., while meeting with family members, including daughter Dawn Flowers, brother in law Nick Harrington and sister-in-law Beverly Harrington this week at her Telegraph Road home.
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.
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.
Stephanie said she's been fishing all of her life and assists her grandmother and mom with the derby each year as a tribute to her grandfather.
“I just love to help my Nana and it was something my papa really loved to do,” she said.
Interested derby participants can sign up for the derby 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).
New sponsors to the derby this year are JoJo's Ice Cream (302-3047), the Parkside Drive-In on Day Road in Lockport; and Chenez’s Popcorn on Main Street, downtown.
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 at the annual post-derby banquet at the Gasport Fire Hall, attended by about 200 people. Hathaway caught a division-winning fish while Morgan received the first Steve Harrington Memorial Award. Brandon Harrington served as Master of Ceremonies.
“Everybody said they're looking forward to another great year. They said you gotta keep it going to 30,” Lynn said. “Next year, Stephanie's a senior and graduating and she's a senior at dance and they're going on a cruise, so if I do have the derby next year, it will be later in July for the first time.”
Follow US&J veteran sports reporter John D'Onofrio at @JohnD'Onofrio7.