By Graeme Murphy 
PICTON – Anglers from around Ontario and Quebec came together this weekend to compete in a fishing competition with a frigid twist: a “shirts off” ice fishing adventure held in the icy clutches of the winter cold.
For three days, avid ice fishermen congregated at Merland Park resort  in Picton for the sixth annual ice fishing derby. It raises funds for the Kiwanis International’s ‘Terrific Kids’ program .
As outlined on the organization’s website, -Terrific Kids- is a student recognition program in support of empowering youth. It’s a program that promotes character development, self-esteem and perseverance by helping children set goals and to provide support to help reach them.
The derby’s competition entry fee was $250 and public admission was $20.
Kevin Lavers, owner of Merland Park resort, said he was confident in the growth of his derby.
“We are trying to build it slowly,” he said.
“Last year, we had 60-km/h winds – so that was an excuse for the locals to stay home, but this year it’s not too bad. There’s no excuse. I want people to come out and enjoy the games because it’s for a good cause. I really want to keep this going.””
With prizes like a black heated jacket, a fish fry kit, gift cards and duffle bags, tailor-made golf clubs, and heated camouflage jackets, the games were set and the stakes were high.
The second day of the derby featured games like the Minnow-to-Win-It minnow mouth pass, closest to the hole golf, pitch and release fishing and the most popular, the “shirt off, fish on” competition in which all participants prepared their rods with bait, removed their shirts, and fished shirtless for five minutes, first catch wins.
Mike Forbes, of Hamilton, Ont. was this year’s winner of the shivering competition.
“This is my second year coming to this event. I’ve only been fishing for about three years now and ice fishing is a big passion. Its just about spending time, bouncing around and finding where the schools are going” said Forbes.
As it was Forbes first time ice fishing without a shirt, he could attest to the cold experience during the thirty seconds it took for him to win the prize.
“I gotta tell ya, fishing shirtless in this weather is real cold,” said Forbes. “It takes real endurance to be able to will yourself to do something like that, hang out half naked in the bitter weather over a frozen lake.
“It took guts and the will to win and all I had to do was set the butter worm on my lure, and drop it in the hole. I reeled three times, jigged my lure twice and I had my three-and-a-half inch perch. Not even 30 seconds and those golf clubs were mine!” he said.
The on-ice games wrapped up Saturday with a total of 70 participants, 48 of whom travelled from afar. The chilly weekend ended with $1,700 raised for the Kiwanis organization.