By MORGAN FRISCH
Fulton County Express

MAYFIELD — Ice instability has caused Saturday’s annual Walleye Challenge to be canceled for the second year in a row.
Event organizer Lou Stutzke announced the cancellation on the Fuel-n-Food Facebook on Sunday, stating the problem isn’t the thickness of the ice, but the ridges and splits that have formed from the recent thaw and rain.
Stutzke said there is 10 to 12 inches of ice, but the raised water level has caused breaks running parallel to each other about 50 to 100 feet apart. Four-wheelers have difficulty passing over these areas, and although snowmobiles can skip across them, most ice fishermen use four-wheelers, Stutzke said.
Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce Tourism Director Gina DaBiere-Gibbs said the annual raffles will still take place noon at Lanzi’s on the Lake for the ninth annual event. Last year was the first year the Walleye Challenge had ever been canceled.
“Last year there wasn’t any ice at all. This year it’s the instability of the ice,” DaBiere-Gibbs said. “There are spots where there is 12 inches of ice, which is plenty thick enough, but because of the cracks, there is open water and ridges and things like that. It’s just a safety issue this year.”
DaBiere-Gibbs said the event has sold out with 1,750 tickets purchased and people usually bring their family and friends with them as well. Although the fishing portion of the event was canceled last year, DaBiere-Gibbs said the crowd was just as big, if not bigger because attendees are still invited for a chance to win the prizes.
“People rented houses, they have camps, they booked their hotel rooms wherever they are gonna stay,” DaBiere-Gibbs said. “They do months in advance and we know from last year that people still came. There are people from the Poughkeepsie area and New Hampshire that we know were there last year.”
The Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federations’ annual ice-fishing tournament, held Saturday, has been canceled as well.
Stutzke said in his cancellation notice people coming to the challenge may not be familiar with the Great Sacandaga Lake and know they need to go from one side of the lake to another and then to the weigh stations as soon as they catch a fish.
“In my opinion, you can not safely do this,” he said. “Especially with above freezing weather and more rain in the forecast this week.”
Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino said he’s seen a lot of ice shantys on the lake and the thickness is anywhere between eight and 16 inches.
“But the problem is the ridges in the ice heaves make it dangerous on either side of those on some of the open water,” Giardino said. “So if you are going to ice fish, I always tell people to use caution.”
In the statement, Stutzke said they plan to move the Walleye date a couple weeks later in the season to ensure better ice. After canceling two years in a row, he said he does not want to be placed in that position again.
DaBiere-Gibbs said there might be a slight economic impact, but not as much as there would be if the entire event was canceled.
“We are still inviting people to the area,” she said.