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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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