WHITNEY POINT — The Donlick family of Cortland gathered Saturday morning on a frozen Whitney Point Lake, watching the fishing lines they had dipped into holes bored into the ice.
“For the first time, this is great,” Christel Donlick said as she, he husband, David, and their children, Annika, 13, Elsie, 11, and Eli, 7, kept vigil over their fishing holes. “It’s entertaining.”
While the family often fishes during the warmer weather — usually at Durkee Park in Homer, Little York Lake, Fall Creek tributaries and the Izaak Walton League pond in Scott — it was their first time ice fishing as they participated along with about 2,000 people at the New York State Crappie Derby.
“Everyone is very helpful,” said David Donlick, who works as sales manager at Sun Chevrolet in Chittenango as his wife home schools their children.
He said other fishermen had helped drill some of the family’s six fishing holes through the 16 inches of ice and provided advice and encouragement.
The children were absorbed in their quest for fish, saying they were having fun during their first couple of hours on the lake, getting a few nibbles but no fish on the hooks.
“Kind of fun,” Annika said of Saturday’s fishing. “We usually don’t walk to the middle” of the lake.
“It’s colder,” Ellsie added. “You can catch fish. It’s fun to get the ability and then you throw them back.”
“You can see all the fish,” added Eli, who has a worm farm in his basement at home to support his fishing hobby.
Tom Decker, treasurer of the Whitney Point Sportsman’s Association and a member of the event organizing committee, said about 4,000 people were attending the derby Saturday, half of them registered to fish.
About 20 volunteers worked Friday to set up the temporary buildings that serve as a concession stand, quarters for the rescue crews and the judging site. The group is efficient, having held the event for 28 years, since 1974, although weather canceled it some years. They also prepared the chili and clam chowder that were among the offerings at the concession stand and assembled the prizes.
About 50 volunteers coordinated the event Saturday.
“Everyone has their tasks,” said Decker, a self-employed engineering geologist.
“I didn’t get much work done this week,” he said.
Larry Hayes, a retired teacher and superintendent at Marathon schools, was among a group working the concession stand, serving up the chili and clam chowder that Decker and his fellow volunteers prepared, along with hamburgers, hot dots and a beverages.
“Business has been good,” Hayes said. “Families have been out here. It’s nice.”
Capt. Jim Crisanti of the Broome County Technical Rescue Team lead a group of about a dozen team members demonstrating their skills on the lake, as one member climbed into a hole cut in the ice and got out alone or with the help of other team members.
A couple of miles away, Adam David had been doing a steady business Friday and Saturday at David’s Live Bait, which opened in January when he helped reestablish a business that his uncle, Edward David, had run in the 1970s and 80s on property off Hemlock Hill Road.
Tending to tubs filled with minnows, wax worms, mousies and spikes with his fiancé, Malory Denton, and family members, he noted they sold 200 to 300 dozen of the fishing bait, at least triple his normal business.
Back on the ice-covered Whitney Point Lake, Dakota Allen of Walton was not having much success catching fish, but still had a good time with about 10 family members and friends.
“They’re (fish) being picky,” said Allen, 21, who often fishes on the lake.
He said he is temporarily laid off from his job with Point Integrity, a natural gas company. Allen lamented that he is scheduled to return to work on April 1, the first day of trout fishing season.