By CAROLINE MURRAY
MAYFIELD -- Local businesses have been gearing up for two major fishing tournaments Satur-day -- the sixth annual Walleye Challenge Ice Fishing Tourn-ament and the Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation winter fishing tournament.
Frigid temperatures have arrived right on time, and merchants are welcoming the tournaments' draw of thousands of people.
Fulton-Montgomery Regional County Chamber of Commerce President Mark Kilmer said last year the walleye challenge reached its maximum capacity, attracting 1,500 contestants to the lake.
This year, the tournament increased its participation number by 250, and sold out all 1,750 slots. Kilmer added there were still people on a waiting list.
"We may sell 1,700 tickets for the event, but right there, that day, there are probably 5,000 to 6,000 people there." said Kilmer. "Anyone can show up and hang out and have a fun day on the lake."
The chamber is one of the sponsors helping to promote and facilitate the walleye fishing derby this weekend.
Kilmer said that people traveling from out of the area tend to spend their money locally at gas stations, restaurants and on lodging.
Challenge organizers Lou and Nancy Stutzke's Mayfield establishment Food and Fuel was already busy Tuesday with local residents preparing for the big day.
"It's good for all businesses," Nancy Stutzke said.
Vic Marshall, owner of Vic's Tavern in the village of Northville, said he looks forward to the weekend's competition because it draws in customers during a typically slow season.
"They eat, drink and tell fish stories," said Marshall.
Throughout the years, he noticed people traveling from all over the state and as far as Pennsylvania. Marshall believes the tournament creates more business for all merchants surrounding the lake.
"Without the lake, a lot of us wouldn't be here," he said.
Frank's Gun and Tackle Shop in the town of Mayfield is another sponsor of the walleye event. The store's general manager Frank Havlick said he will be opening his shop at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday.
Havlick said tourists tend to stop by the store because they sometimes forget their fishing gear at home.
"Mostly bait and hooks," he said.
He added that this weekend is the only weekend during the winter that his business tends to pick up in sales.
Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation Chairman Randy Gardinier said this week's chilly forecast is ideal for both competitions. Gardinier said the colder weather creates thicker ice, and ensures stable lake levels for the thousands of people ready to camp out, fish and enjoy the day.
"It's actually probably the biggest weekend as far as ice fishing on the lake for the year, between the two tournaments going on," he said. "If the weather is really snowy, it makes it tough for people traveling to the lake. As far as that goes, we should be in good shape. Hopefully we will get a big turnout."
The fisheries federation's tournament is separate from the walleye tournament, but Gardinier said last year they changed their event to complement the other one.
On Saturday, his club will be handing out monetary prizes to those who catch trout, perch and pike, but not walleye.
"We had 381 (participants) last year -- that is the most that we have had in an ice fishing contest, it would be nice to be over 400 this year," said Gardinier.
The Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation's annual ice fishing contest will be based out of the Sacandaga Boating Club in north Broadalbin, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Walleye Challenge will begin at 7 a.m. with hourly prizes, and will conclude at 3 p.m. There are two weigh stations, one at Lanzi's on the Lake in Mayfield, and one near the Broadalbin Boat Launch.