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From the August 2012 Conservationist

A hiker on a foggy mountainside trail

Fair Haven Challenge

By Nicholas Calabrese

The following essay was a winner in the Young Writer's category in DEC's Great Stories from the Great Outdoors contest.

Have you ever won a fishing challenge? I have.

A color illustration of a salmon

It started out on a cool summer morning when I went fishing on Lake Ontario with my dad, his friend Paul, and my uncle. We motored out to the middle of the lake and set the lines. Then we waited about an hour. Bang! Five hundred feet of copper fishing line released. The drag on the reel screamed like a supersonic jet taking off. It took me about half an hour to reel in the salmon at the other end. After that, my arms felt like noodles. When we got the fish in, we weighed it: 21 pounds, 15 ounces. We put it in the cooler.

Soon after that the center downrigger released and my dad mastered the fishing pole and reeled in a more modest fish-7 pounds, 8 ounces. Then we waited for what seemed like an eternity. Bang! We caught another one. It was 16 pounds, 11 ounces.

After we caught our fish we brought them by car to Fair Haven. My dad and uncle were in the front seat and I was in the back seat, tired but happy after a good day fishing. When we got to the site where the fish were weighed-in, I saw the people and the shiny gold awards. I smelled fish and food being cooked.

We waited about an hour to have our fish weighed. I entered my fish in the youth division. I felt the slime of the fish and the scales on the gills as I put it on the scale. We had to wait ten minutes, which seemed like hours, and then the host started to raffle off the door prizes. We didn't get lucky winning any of the door prizes...little did I know how lucky I was going to become.

Then the host started to give out the awards. It was getting boring, so I went to the bathroom, which was a long way away. When I returned, my uncle told me that I had won the youth division. At first I hesitated, then I walked up to the host and said, "I'm Nicholas Calabrese."

He said, "Good. How big was your fish?"

In a confused voice, I said, "21 pounds, 15 ounces."

Then he said, "Here is your award for the biggest salmon in the youth division." He handed me my plaque, which was coal-black in color. I felt its smoothness. I heard the applause of the people and the voice of the host. I felt like I was going to cry.

Then the host said, "And that's not all; you also get your fish mounted for free. So go and get your fish."

I was so excited that I ran as fast as I could and got my fish. I felt like I was going to trip and fall on my face. I brought it back and laid it in the grass for all to see.

After dinner at a barbecue restaurant in Oswego, we went home and I told my mom about my action-packed day and my winning fish. She was not too happy because now she had to find a place on the wall to hang the mounted fish.

Winning the Fair Haven challenge is an outdoor moment I will never forget.


Nicholas Calabrese was a sixth-grader at Camden Middle School when he submitted this essay.


Note: This year, the Fair Haven Challenge occurs on August 25th. Check out their events calendar for details.

Photo: John Bulmer