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nature & waterways

Canal Corp. says tree stumps will be removed with grass surface to be established

Photos by Tom Rivers: Mohawk Valley Materials from Utica cuts down trees next to the towpath in Albion on Friday. This section was just west of the Brown Street bridge. The company started clearing trees along the canal last month in medina and is working its way east to Fairport.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 November 2017 at 11:33 am

ALBION – Canal Corp. officials say they know they trees being cut down along the fringe of the towpath is a shock for many in the community. The strip will look better than its immediate state when the trees are cut down, an official said Friday in Albion. The stumps will be removed and grass seed will be spread.

The tree removal is phase one of a vegetation management project.

The New York State Canal Corp. has hired Mohawk Valley Materials from Utica to remove vegetation on the Canal Corp. right of way.

The Canal Corp. will be taking down trees on 145 acres between Medina and Fairport. The contractor hired for the job won’t be touching any trees on privately owned land.

Trees are removed in Albion in the section near the Brown Street bridge.

The trees have roots that can burrow into the soil, going under the towpath and reaching the canal walls. That can make the canal vulnerable to leaks and weaken the walls, Canal Corp. officials said.

“Their removal will restore the integrity of the embankments and improve the Canal Corporation’s ability to properly manage their condition, keeping the communities that surround the canal safe from potential flooding due to structural failures,” the Canal Corp. states on its website. (Click here for the link to see more about the Vegetation Management Project.)

The tree-cutting crew is working its way east along the canal after starting in Medina last month.

The Canal Corp. posted this section of Frequently Asked Questions about the project:

Q: Why are we undertaking a vegetation management program?

A: Together with the New York Power Authority, the Canal Corporation is taking steps to strengthen and reinforce Erie Canal embankments in Monroe and Orleans counties. This work primarily involves removal of trees and other vegetation, which can weaken embankments through root structure growth. NYPA and the Canal Corporation are taking proactive, appropriate measures to ensure the embankments are restored to their design condition, free of vegetation and roots. This type of vegetation can provide pathways for seepage, which can potentially weaken embankments and result in failure, leading to flooding of lands surrounding the canal. Furthermore, the heavy vegetation prevents Canal employees and other inspectors from being able to thoroughly monitor the integrity of the Canal’s embankments.

Q: What is the scope of the project?

A: The work will take place in phases. First, any required environmental protection measures will be installed. Next, smaller brush will be cleared, followed by the cutting of trees. Brush and trees will be removed from the site of work or may be chipped on site. Eventually the tree stumps will be excavated and removed and the affected area will be regraded. As the work progresses, all disturbed areas will be restored by establishing a grass surface that the Canal Corporation will maintain.

Sections of the towpath are closed while the contractors take down trees. This spot is just west of Main Street in Albion.

Q: What impacts will this project have on your property?

A: The Canal Corporation has taken care to assure the work is being done exclusively on property it owns to ensure your land remains undisturbed. Please contact us regarding any potentially impacted permitted structures on Canal lands at 518-449-6026. Canal personnel will be happy to come to your property to do an assessment and help you determine whether the structure(s) in question should be temporarily moved.

About the New York State Canal Corporation

New York’s canal system includes four historic canals: the Erie, Champlain, Oswego and Cayuga-Seneca. Spanning 524 miles, the waterway links the Hudson River with the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes and Lake Champlain. The canals form the backbone of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and connect hundreds of unique and historic communities. In 2017, New York is celebrating the bicentennial for the start of the Erie Canal’s construction.

Trees are cleared out on the north side of the canal between Main and Ingersoll streets in Albion on Friday.

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Fishermen from many states converge on Oak Orchard

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 October 2017 at 9:55 am

‘It’s the beauty of being in the river this time of year’

WATERPORT – There are many out-of-state anglers, even Canadians, in Orleans County this weekend fishing the Oak Orchard River. The parking lot by the Waterport Dam on Friday had vehicles with license plates from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey, and Ontario, Canada. There were also numerous cars and trucks from New York State.

Fishing is Orleans County’s biggest tourism draw, accounting for about $12 million in revenue.

Dale Wetzel drove 300 miles from Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. He has made the trip every fall the past 15 years with some friends.

He had caught a Chinook salmon, a brown trout and rainbow trout by late Friday morning.

“I love this,” Wetzel said. “It’s great.”

John Grant of Ontario, Canada, said the fish have been more elusive to catch this year at the Oak Orchard. But Grant, 78, didn’t regret making the effort to come to Orleans County, especially on Friday when the temperature was about 60 degrees.

“It’s the beauty of being in the river this time of year,” he said. “A day like this, if you’re a billionaire you couldn’t buy it.”

Grant said he has been coming to the Oak Orchard “for years and years.”

“It’s a good river,” he said. “It gets a good run of fish.”

The spot near the Waterport Dam is a popular one for anglers.

These two fishermen are shown near the dam on Friday morning. Anglers said more fishermen would show up later in Friday and over the weekend.

Anglers fish close to the Waterport Dam.

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Fly fishermen return for annual tournament at Archery Club

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 October 2017 at 4:04 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

WATERPORT – The St. Mary’s Archery Club on the Oak Orchard River has welcomed about 50 participants in the club’s annual fly fishing tournament from today through Friday.

The fishermen include Joe Harkay, front, who made a 400-mile trip from New Jersey to fish in the tournament. Harkay, 79, is a past champ of the event.

He has been a regular at the Oak Orchard River the past decade. He used to go to the Salmon River at Pulaski, but Harkay said the crowds are big and it’s much more costly to fish up there.

“They’re all gentlemen here,” he said about the fishermen. “This is pure fishing.”

The Oak Orchard is deeper than usual and that has made it tougher to catch fish because they are harder to see in the water and they are more elusive. Harkay likes the challenge.

“The fish have a better chance,” he said. “At the (Waterport) Dam the fish are corralled. The fishermen there are meat hunters.”

The Archery Club runs a catch-and-release tournament with prizes for the biggest Chinook salmon, brown trout, Atlantic salmon and steelhead.

Out-of-state participants have come from Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Maine, Connecticut and two from South Korea.

It is a beautiful day to be on the river with the sun shining and high temperatures at about 70.

The Oak Orchard River is a popular spot in the fall with anglers trying to catch big salmon and trout.

Ben Smith, 12, peers into the water, trying to see a salmon. Ben was fishing with his father and two younger brothers. They traveled about 300 miles from near Harrisburg, Pa.

Shane Smith, right, fishes with his youngest son, Beckett, 7. Shane is the father of Ben Smith, in the above photo. Ben’s other brother, Brayden, is 10. The three brothers had a friendly rivalry to see who could catch the biggest fish.

Shane has been fishing at the Oak Orchard for nearly 30 years, first going with his father. Now it’s a three-generation trip for the family.

Duane Putnam, a member of the Archery Club, has a batch of French fries ready for the fishermen. Jeff Holler, in back, checks on chicken. The Archery Club is serving breakfast and lunch daily through Veterans’ Day on Nov. 11. There is a cost for the meals, and a $10 fee to park at the club to go fishing.

The club last year built a new pavilion to extend the kitchen. Putnam and Holler said the extra space has made it much easier to have food ready for the fishermen.

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High waters have Chinook salmon making deeper runs into Orleans County

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 October 2017 at 6:25 pm

Lots of salmon have made it to Albion

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – This Chinook salmon was spotted today in Sandy Creek near the culvert under the Erie Canal. There were several other Chinook near this one in Sandy Creek (on the north side of the canal) at about 2:30 p.m.

It’s the annual fall salmon run, where Chinook swim upstream to spawn. Usually they don’t get too far. The streams and creeks usually aren’t deep enough for fish to go many miles into Orleans County.

This isn’t a normal year, however. The high Lake Ontario waters and recent heavy rains have streams deeper. That has Chinook salmon reaching spots they aren’t usually seen.

“We have high water all over the place,” said Mike Waterhouse, the county’s sportsfishing promotion coordinator. “It’s not a typical year.”

He has heard reports from people who saw Chinook jump up and over fallen logs to keep moving in local streams.

I wondered how far the fish could go in Albion. I stopped by Bullard Park after seeing the fish by the canal.

Someone left a fishing rod and reel by Sandy Creek at Bullard Park.

Sandy Creek is pretty shallow near the park. I followed the creek, which has many small waterfalls and a big culvert for the railroad. I didn’t see any salmon.

This culvert is impressive, but I didn’t see any fish in this part of Sandy Creek. The railroad tracks run over the culvert.

I headed over to Community Action, which is on the south side of the Canal by Sandy Creek. I was curious if any of the salmon swam through the culvert under the canal.

A waste weir is used to empty water from the canal. Initially I thought any fish on this side of the canal (the south side) would have a traumatic experience being shot through the water from the waste weir. But I think Sandy Creek runs underneath this concrete. This spot is behind Community Action on State Street, west of Brown Street.

I saw one salmon right away that had made it to this side. The fish seemed to be relaxing. The bubbles are from roaring water from the waste weir.

I wondered how far the fish could keep going. It’s difficult to get down here and the water isn’t very deep in spots, but I could see the fins of some fish coming out of the water a little farther down the stream.

This was one of two dead fish I saw (and smelled) down here. This was a monstrous fish.

This is the end of the road for the salmon. This waterfall would be impossible to get past, unless the salmon could pole vault. There were about 25 huge salmon in this area, swimming in a circle.

This is the spot where the salmon have been stopped in their spawning run. They’re hard to see in the photo, but there were about 25 at the base of the waterfall. I wonder where they will go?

Some of the salmon swim in Sandy Creek near the waterfall.

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Schumer says bipartisan support for Great Lakes bill that would help fishery

Photos by Tom Rivers: U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer was in Kendall this afternoon to discuss the Great Lakes Aquatic Connectivity and Infrastructure Program Act, which would provide grants to repair or replace aging dams, culverts, and roads that inhibit the movement of fish populations across Lake Ontario and its tributaries. Schumer is shown with, from left: Mike Waterhouse, sportsfishing promotion coordinator for Orleans County; Mike Elam, a leader of the Orleans County Sportsmen Federation; Dennis Kirby, manager of the Orleans County Soil & Water Conservation District; and John DeFilipps, chairman of the Orleans County Legislature.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 October 2017 at 3:55 pm

KENDALL – U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said he has enjoyed fishing since he was a kid. But the activity provides more than mere fun. Schumer said it is big business for many communities, including Orleans County.

However, aging infrastructure, including many culverts that should help move water under roads, often are clogged. That condition can prevent fish from moving upstream, especially during the critical spawning runs. If fish spawn in sub-optimal conditions, the eggs are less likely to survive, Schumer said, quoting The Nature Conservancy.

Schumer was in Kendall today at the Bald Eagle Marina to announce there is bipartisan support for the Great Lakes Aquatic Connectivity and Infrastructure Program Act. The bill supports infrastructure updates that will improve Great Lakes fisheries and restore habitats. The bill would provide grants to repair or replace aging dams, culverts and roads that inhibit the movement of fish populations across the Great Lakes Basin. Additionally, the bill creates a grant program that would fund infrastructure projects to help improve fisheries.

“Sportsfishing is the #1 tourism industry in Orleans County,” Schumer said. “Each year droves of tourists – many from other states – pump over $12 million into the economy, supporting local employers like marinas, bait shops, charter boat operators, restaurants, and inns. But it is all dependent on us protecting and maintaining fish populations in Lake Ontario.”

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer shakes hands with Mike Waterhouse, the county’s sports fishing promotion coordinator.

Schumer cited an example of one unfunded project long sought by the local Orleans County sportsfishing community to reconfigure the overflow channel at the Waterport Dam. This channel can now trap hundreds of fish as they migrate along on the Oak Orchard River. When the river water level rises, fish can enter the overflow channel only to then become trapped and stranded as the water level drops.

In 2006 an estimated 300 Chinook salmon were trapped and died in the channel in 2006, reducing the number of Chinook available to anglers and causing aesthetic issues resulting from the dead fish, Schumer said.

“Protecting and improving Lake Ontario’s fisheries, especially through funding for infrastructure updates, is a win-win to not only boost our sport finishing industry but to provide much-needed funding to fix faulty and dilapidated infrastructure,” Schumer said.

He supports the bill introduced by Senators Debbie Stabenow, Gary Peters, Tammy Duckworth, and Sherrod Brown, who represent Great Lake states.

Mike Waterhouse, the county’s sports fishing promotion coordinator, said fishing is the county’s top tourism draw. The big fish was recently restored by the Medina FFA and has been displayed at parades and community events this year. That fish is 13 feet long.

The bill would provide grants to repair or replace aging dams, culverts and roads that inhibit the movement of fish populations across the Great Lakes Basin. Additionally, the bill creates a grant program that would fund infrastructure projects to help improve fisheries.  Schumer said local governments would apply for the funding.

There are now approximately 400 culverts in Orleans County that must be maintained, often at an expensive cost to local taxpayers. For example, the County recently replaced four aging culverts that carry waters of Oak Orchard Creek River at a cost of over $1.2 million which was funded from an $8 million county bond issue in 2014. Schumer noted this legislation could help provide funds to offset the cost of replacing these culverts while improving fish habitats and spawning areas.

Mike Waterhouse, the county’s sportsfishing promotion coordinator, said fishing is the top tourism draw in the county, generating about $12 million in direct visitor spending.

“Orleans County’s economy is dependent on protecting our world-class fishery and that requires investments to repair infrastructure, combat invasive species, and improve fishing habitats,” Waterhouse said. “For example, we have long sought to construct a raceway to prevent fish that get stranded and die in the overflow channel at the Waterport Dam as they migrate along on the Oak Orchard River. We appreciate Senator Schumer’s push for this new funding program to help grow Great Lakes sportsfishing which is our top tourism industry.”

The county has about 30 charter boat operators, several marinas, bait shops and dozens of fishing derbies and tournaments that attract out-of-state tourists.

Two charter boat captains, Jerry Felluca (left at podium) and Lucas Falkner, spoke at the press event today at the Bald Eagle Marina.

Two of the charter boat captains were at Schumer’s announcement at the Bald Eagle Marina in Kendall.

Jerry Felluca of Rebel Fishing Charters and Lucas Falkner of Make the Turn Charters both said they have many repeat customers who travel for the chance to catch trophy size salmon and trout.

“We’ve been able to catch fish for the children that are the same size as the children,” Falkner said.

The charter captains also said a pressing concern is the deteriorating condition of the Lake Ontario State parkway in recent years. A section has been paved east of Kendall in Orleans County this year, and more will be paved next year from Hamlin to Route 237 in Kendall, Kendall Town Supervisor Tony Cammarata said.

Schumer said a federal infrastructure bill could take care of neglected roads and bridges. He said the Parkway is an asset.

“It’s one of the most beautiful drives in the country,” he said.

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NY announces $2.5 million challenge to reimagine canal system

Photo by Tom Rivers: The tugboat Syracuse carries inspectors and officials from the State Canal Corp. on the Erie Canal in Albion on Sept. 14, 2016.

Posted 25 September 2017 at 12:33 pm

Press Release, Gov. Cuomo’s Office

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the state will hold a global competition to find the best ideas to re-imagine the New York State Canal System so it becomes an engine for economic growth upstate as well as a world-class tourist destination.

The competition, to be run by the New York Power Authority and New York State Canal Corporation, will award up to $2.5 million to develop and implement the winning ideas.

“The Canal System is a vital part of New York’s storied past and it is critical that it continues to be an essential component of our state’s future,” Governor Cuomo said. “We’re looking for bold and innovative ideas that ensure the canal system and its surrounding communities can grow and prosper and with this competition, we encourage bright minds from across the globe to contribute their best ideas to help bring this piece of history to new heights.”

“Originally labeled Clinton’s Folly, the Erie Canal went on to become one of the most significant transportation milestones in our history, putting Upstate NY on the path to a century of prosperity,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “It is fitting that now, as we celebrate its bicentennial, we re-imagine how this iconic Canal can once again become an engine for economic growth across New York State.”

The competition was announced as New York continues the celebration of the bicentennial of the Erie Canal, whose construction began in Rome, N.Y., on July 4, 1817. Next year, the State will mark the centennial of the 524-mile state Canal System, which includes the Erie, Champlain, Cayuga-Seneca and Oswego canals.

“There are many people in the public and private sector who are passionate about the canals,” said Gil C. Quiniones, president and CEO of the New York Power Authority, which operates the state Canal System as a subsidiary. “We want to translate that passion into sustainable projects that will make the canal corridor bigger and better.”

Quiniones unveiled the competition today at the World Canals Conference in Syracuse, where hundreds of canal experts and enthusiasts from three continents are meeting this week.

“The building of the Erie Canal took persistence, vision and overcoming deep skepticism, but its construction transformed this nation,” Brian U. Stratton, New York State Canal Corporation director said. “Now, we want to transform the canals so they become go-to travel and recreation destinations. The entries can come from anywhere. Good ideas have no boundaries.”

The goals of the competition include soliciting programs and initiatives that promote:

• The Canal System and its trails as a tourist destination and recreational asset for New York residents and visitors;

• Sustainable economic development along the Canal System;

• The Canal System’s heritage; and

• The long-term financial sustainability of the Canal Corporation.

The competition will seek entries on two separate tracks, one for infrastructure; the other for programs that have the potential to increase recreation use and tourism.

In the first round, entrants will provide information about how their proposal meets core competition goals and outlines the applicant’s qualifications. Finalists will each receive $50,000 to implement their ideas for the second round, where they will partner with either a municipality along the Canal System or a non-profit engaged in canal-related work. A panel of judges will select two or more winners to receive between $250,000 and $1.5 million to plan their projects and implement them.

Submissions for the first round are due Dec. 4. The final winners will be announced next spring.

For more information, go to

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Last-minute catch nets North Tonawanda man $4,000 grand prize in OC Fishing Derby

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 August 2017 at 8:14 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

POINT BREEZE – John Vanhoff of North Tonawanda holds a 30-pound, 12-ounce Chinook salmon he caught on Sunday to win the $4,000 grand prize in the Orleans County Fishing Derby.

Vanhoff is pictured at the awards ceremony outside the Black North Inn. The big fish behind him is a 13-foot-long fish that was restored by the Medina FFA. The big fish, after being out of the public eye for a few years, has been busy this year, appearing at several local parades and festivals, promoting the county’s fishery.

Vanhoff caught his winning fish at 10:30 a.m. at the Niagara Bar. The derby closed at 1 p.m. That is the deadline for getting a fish to a weigh station.

Vanhoff made it to the Slippery Sinker in Olcott at 12:20 p.m. His fish was 3 ounces heavier than one caught by Keith Sheffield of Henrietta. Sheffield had been leading the derby since Aug. 12. Instead of $4,000, Sheffield won $500 for leading the salmon division.

Vanhoff has been there before, leading a derby only to knocked off the top of the leaderboard at the last minute.

“I’ve lost one before by one ounce,” Vanhoff, 48, said. “That’s the way it is. It’s what the scale says.”

Keith Sheffield of Henrietta holds a 30-pound, 9-ounce Chinook that led the derby for more than a week. He won $500 as the salmon division leader.

Vanhoff has been fishing Lake Ontario derbies for more than 20 years. He has won the Orleans County Fishing Derby before, back when the grand prize was $3,500.

He caught his big salmon Sunday with cut bait – a piece of herring. He had the bait 75 feet down in about 90 feet of water. It took about 15 minutes to reel in the big fish.

Vanhoff said he has been fishing seriously for more than 20 years, with a 39-pounder his biggest salmon ever. He said he’s caught ten that topped 30 pounds.

“Thirty-pounders are hard to come by,” he said.

The derby often attracts 600 to 700 entries, but only had 376 this time. The derby started Aug. 5 with rough waters that limited the fishing. But marina owners said the bad press about the high lake levels has scared off many fishermen from being on the lake. Many of the boat launches are still open and the fishing has been good, anglers said Sunday at the awards program.

However, the bad press is hurting the marinas and keeping many people from getting out on the lake.

The Orleans County Fishing Derby has been run by the Albion Rotary Club for 35 years. Bill Downey is the chairman. Derby organizers considered cancelling this year’s derby, but decided to continue because many of the marinas and boat launches are still open.

The derby committee wants to help promote the fishery and give the marinas a boost during a tough year. Despite a big decrease in participants, Downey said the Rotary Club should still clear a small profit that will be used for other community projects.

The derby gave out $8,800 in total prizes, including $500 for the division winners, which include:

  • Chinook salmon: 30 pounds, 9 ounces – Keith Sheffield of Henrietta.
  • Rainbow trout/steelhead: 15 pounds, 14 ounces – Robert Griffith, Copley, Ohio.
  • Brown trout: 14 pounds, 3 ounces – Bill Cole of Albion.
  • Lake trout: 17 pounds, 10 ounces – Dan DeGeorge of Rochester.

Forest Miller of Holley won the $200 bonus award given to the Orleans County resident who catches the biggest fish. Miller reeled in a 26-pound, 9-ounce Chinook.

To see the full leaderboard, click here.

Here are more photos of some of the leading fish from the derby:

Bill Cole of Albion won the brown trout division with this 14-pound, 3-ounce trout.

Jason Grager of Lyndonville was second in the brown trout division with this 12-pound, 12-ounce fish.

Eric Diltz of Brockport holds the fourth place rainbow trout, which weighed 12 pounds, 2 ounces.

Dan DeGeorge of Rochester won the lake trout division with this 17-pound, 10-ounce fish.

Brayden Gambell of Hilton came in third with this lake trout that weighed 14 pounds, 9 ounces.

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Entries sought for annual canal photo contest

Posted 10 August 2017 at 1:17 pm

Press Release, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corrdior

WATERFORD – As New York celebrates the 200th anniversary of the building of the Erie Canal in 2017, amateur and professional photographers are invited to capture the canal corridor’s distinctive sense of place for the 12th annual Erie Canalway Photo Contest.

Winning photos will be featured in the 2018 Erie Canalway calendar.

Images should convey the wealth of things to do and see along the waterway and express the unique character of the canal and canal communities. Images will be judged in four contest categories: On the Water, Along the Trail, Canal Communities, and Classic Canal. Judges will select first, second, and third place winning images in each category, as well as 12 honorable mentions.

Images must be taken within the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, which spans 524 miles across the full expanse of upstate New York. It encompasses the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Oswego, and Champlain canals and their historic alignments, as well as more than 230 canal communities.

Entries must be postmarked by August 31, 2017. Click here to download official contest rules and an entry form.

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Fishing Derby starts with $8,800 in prizes up for grabs

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 August 2017 at 10:09 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: Julie Schaeffer holds the 30-pound, 14-ounce Chinook salmon that she caught to win to the $4,000 grand prize in last year’s Orleans County Fishing Derby. Schaeffer is from Sligo, Pa. and has been coming to Orleans County to fish since the early 1980s.

The annual Orleans County Fishing Derby starts today and continues until Aug. 20 with $8,800 in prizes available.

The angler who catches the biggest fish in the derby wins $4,000.

Participants in the derby can enter fish in four divisions: Chinook salmon, brown trout, rainbow trout, and lake trout.

Besides $4,000 for the biggest fish, the four division leaders each get $500, followed by $300 for second, $200 for third, $100 for fourth and $50 for fifth.

There is also a $200 prize to the Orleans County resident who catches the biggest fish.

The derby is sponsored by the Albion Rotary Club, and proceeds go towards community projects. The Rotary Club has been organizing the derby for more than 30 years, seeing the event as a way to promote tourism businesses and the local fishing scene.

For more on the derby, including how to register, click here.

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