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Fishermen subject to scrutiny at annual Winni Derby

  • A salmon is removed from its bucket to be measured and weighed at the station set up near the public docks at Weirs Beach for the 31st annual Winni Derby on May 19, 2013. <br/><br/>Winni Derby instates lie detectors for winners. Dakota Wright, 17, of Laconia, a Bishop Brady student, skipped prom to fish the derby with his father Mark and won in the overall salmon category. He will have to take a lie detector test at some point to verify that he caught it in Lake Winnipesaukee. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    A salmon is removed from its bucket to be measured and weighed at the station set up near the public docks at Weirs Beach for the 31st annual Winni Derby on May 19, 2013.

    Winni Derby instates lie detectors for winners. Dakota Wright, 17, of Laconia, a Bishop Brady student, skipped prom to fish the derby with his father Mark and won in the overall salmon category. He will have to take a lie detector test at some point to verify that he caught it in Lake Winnipesaukee.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • The dry-erase board at the weigh station kept track of the incoming fish in the salmon category. The big prize at the Winni Derby comes with catching the biggest non-producing salmon that is restocked every year by New Hampshrie Fish and Game. <br/><br/>Winni Derby instates lie detectors for winners. Dakota Wright, 17, of Laconia, a Bishop Brady student, skipped prom to fish the derby with his father Mark and won in the overall salmon category. He will have to take a lie detector test at some point to verify that he caught it in Lake Winnipesaukee. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    The dry-erase board at the weigh station kept track of the incoming fish in the salmon category. The big prize at the Winni Derby comes with catching the biggest non-producing salmon that is restocked every year by New Hampshrie Fish and Game.

    Winni Derby instates lie detectors for winners. Dakota Wright, 17, of Laconia, a Bishop Brady student, skipped prom to fish the derby with his father Mark and won in the overall salmon category. He will have to take a lie detector test at some point to verify that he caught it in Lake Winnipesaukee.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Dakota Wright, 17, of Laconia, a Bishop Brady student, hugs his father Mark (facing) after finding out he won the top award at the 31st annual Winni Derby on May 19, 2013. Wright skipped prom to fish the derby with his father Mark and won in the overall salmon category. He will have to take a lie detector test at some point to verify that he caught it in Lake Winnipesaukee. In addition to the $600 he won for the tip catch yesterday, Wright won $12,500 and a hat. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Dakota Wright, 17, of Laconia, a Bishop Brady student, hugs his father Mark (facing) after finding out he won the top award at the 31st annual Winni Derby on May 19, 2013. Wright skipped prom to fish the derby with his father Mark and won in the overall salmon category. He will have to take a lie detector test at some point to verify that he caught it in Lake Winnipesaukee. In addition to the $600 he won for the tip catch yesterday, Wright won $12,500 and a hat.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • A salmon waits in a bucket waiting to be measured and weighed.<br/><br/>Winni Derby instates lie detectors for winners. Dakota Wright, 17, of Laconia, a Bishop Brady student, skipped prom to fish the derby with his father Mark and won in the overall salmon category. He will have to take a lie detector test at some point to verify that he caught it in Lake Winnipesaukee. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    A salmon waits in a bucket waiting to be measured and weighed.

    Winni Derby instates lie detectors for winners. Dakota Wright, 17, of Laconia, a Bishop Brady student, skipped prom to fish the derby with his father Mark and won in the overall salmon category. He will have to take a lie detector test at some point to verify that he caught it in Lake Winnipesaukee.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • A salmon is removed from its bucket to be measured and weighed at the station set up near the public docks at Weirs Beach for the 31st annual Winni Derby on May 19, 2013. <br/><br/>Winni Derby instates lie detectors for winners. Dakota Wright, 17, of Laconia, a Bishop Brady student, skipped prom to fish the derby with his father Mark and won in the overall salmon category. He will have to take a lie detector test at some point to verify that he caught it in Lake Winnipesaukee. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • The dry-erase board at the weigh station kept track of the incoming fish in the salmon category. The big prize at the Winni Derby comes with catching the biggest non-producing salmon that is restocked every year by New Hampshrie Fish and Game. <br/><br/>Winni Derby instates lie detectors for winners. Dakota Wright, 17, of Laconia, a Bishop Brady student, skipped prom to fish the derby with his father Mark and won in the overall salmon category. He will have to take a lie detector test at some point to verify that he caught it in Lake Winnipesaukee. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Dakota Wright, 17, of Laconia, a Bishop Brady student, hugs his father Mark (facing) after finding out he won the top award at the 31st annual Winni Derby on May 19, 2013. Wright skipped prom to fish the derby with his father Mark and won in the overall salmon category. He will have to take a lie detector test at some point to verify that he caught it in Lake Winnipesaukee. In addition to the $600 he won for the tip catch yesterday, Wright won $12,500 and a hat. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • A salmon waits in a bucket waiting to be measured and weighed.<br/><br/>Winni Derby instates lie detectors for winners. Dakota Wright, 17, of Laconia, a Bishop Brady student, skipped prom to fish the derby with his father Mark and won in the overall salmon category. He will have to take a lie detector test at some point to verify that he caught it in Lake Winnipesaukee. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Fishermen have been known to tell tall tales.

Sometimes stretching the truth can make for a better story – a longer fight, a few more pounds, an inch longer. But with the annual Winni Derby’s $12,500 winning prize on the line, some may be tempted to go beyond the white lies and actually commit fraud.

Some fishermen have been known to put batteries inside the fish to add weight, while past winners are believed to have netted their prize-winning salmon in different waters.

“There’s so many ways of cheating at this game,” said Jean Lavallee, a fisherman from Merrimack who has heard it all.

But this year, after rumors began swirling about cheaters, event organizers promised to finally enforce a rule that’s been on the books for years: The winner of the grand prize salmon division would be subject to a polygraph test.

Was this year’s winner nervous?

“No reason to be,” said 17-year-old Dakota Wright of Laconia, one of the competition’s youngest winners in its 31-year history. The polygraph test was not conducted immediately after the winners were announced, and event organizers were not specific on when it would be conducted. But the thought of it didn’t scare Wright. The 3.7 pound, 22.5 inch fish that he caught wasn’t bought from a store or found in another lake, he said. No, it was caught right on Lake Winnipesaukee about 6:30 Saturday morning, and not without a struggle.

“It was a solid 15-minute fight,” said Wright, a junior at Bishop Brady High School.

The $12,500 prize made Wright’s decision to skip prom Friday night worth it. He plans on using his winnings to buy himself a truck and pay for a year’s worth of car insurance.

Although Wright was the only fisherman told he’d be subject to a polygraph test, he was far from the only fisherman to take home winnings. The Winni Derby runs from Friday to Sunday and has three divisions: salmon, trout and junior salmon. Daily prizes are awarded, as well as grand prizes on Sunday. The grand prize trout winner was Raymond Combs of West Halifax, Vt., who took home $5,000. Christopher Gelinas, 11, of Loudon, won the junior salmon division and took home a 14-foot motor boat with a trailer.

About 1,300 fishermen participated this year, fishing anywhere of their choosing on Lake Winnipesaukee. The rule book has always said the winner could be subject to a polygraph test if anything was suspicious, but this year the organizers decided to enforce the rule no matter what, with the goal of showing fishermen that cheating is taken seriously.

“There’s an awful lot of rumors out there of people in the past cheating,” said Diana LaBrie, the chairwoman of the event and a member of Laconia Rotary Club, which sponsors the event.

Many fishermen said they thought having the test was a good thing this year. With so much money on the line, “there’s always that temptation” to catch a bigger fish elsewhere and bring it to the weigh station, said Don Miller, a large lake fisheries biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game. He was on hand to weigh and inspect the fish.

And while most of the 1,300 fishermen who participated in this weekend’s derby would never dream of cheating, several admitted it’s not out of character for a fisherman to exaggerate a story here and there.

“Everybody stretches the truth, they always say it’s three more pounds than it was,” said Ed Mann of Westminster, Mass.

But often times the real stories are even better.

Larry Thomas of Leominister, Mass., recalled a Winni Derby about a decade ago when he had hooked a fish he was sure would be the winner. He was battling with the fish for more than an hour, and one of his friends, Randy, was getting ready to net it.

“I said, ‘Randy, you better let me net him myself, because if you miss him, I’ll hate you for the rest of your life,’ ” Thomas said.

But when Thomas went to take the net himself, the fish was so heavy it flipped right out. The hook got caught on the net, and that fish swam away. The story, he insists, is true. And he’s sure that fish would have been a winner.

“It was a big salmon – I swear, he was 100 pounds,” Thomas said with a laugh.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or
kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

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