By Sonya Vartabedian
---- — NEWBURYPORT — As the area braces for a winter wallop, one local site seems to have escaped the season’s natural fate.
While most all other area lakes and ponds are frozen, the Artichoke Reservoir between Newburyport and West Newbury has yet to see a solid surface of ice for an extended period.
And that’s bad news for the Essex County Sportsmen’s Association, which is having to postpone its annual ice fishing tournament for a second consecutive weekend. The tournament was originally scheduled for last Sunday, Feb. 3, but then postponed to this Sunday because of warmer than normal temperatures.
While organizers are looking to reschedule the tournament for Feb. 24, Keith Stanwood, chairman of the event, said he’s less than confident the surface will be frozen come the end of the month.
“I don’t see it happening,” he said. “The snow is coming supposedly Friday, then rain. It’s worse now than it was last Sunday and it’s going to get progressively worse.
“The days are getting longer, the sun is getting stronger. I think we’re essentially dead in the water.”
This is the second straight year the weather has wreaked havoc on the tournament. It was also canceled last year because of the lack of a real winter freeze.
Stanwood, who grew up around the reservoir, said he and others who have spent their lives there don’t ever remember a winter where the waters have remained open. In fact, he believes the reservoir is the only non-frozen water body of its kind within a 20-mile radius, saying Lake Attitash in Amesbury and Merrimac, Lake Gardner in Amesbury, Country Pond in Newton, N.H., and Kingston Lake in Kingston, N.H., where he now lives, are all thick with ice.
He blames the conditions on the wind patterns through the area surrounding the reservoir.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “It’s wild. It’s too bad.”
Stanwood said he’s disappointed the tournament, which the Newburyport-based sportsmen’s association first held in 1988, appears once again to be headed for cancellation. The event is one of the group’s biggest fundraisers. A lot of contestants look forward to it, he said. Plus, it takes a lot to organize, with businesses donating raffle prizes and local bait shops such as Bridge Road Bait and Tackle in Salisbury and Merrimac Bait and Tackle buying extra bait at their expense to accommodate participants.
He’s not ready to hang up his rod on the tournament just yet, though, and will see how the conditions look in a couple weeks. While chances are the temperatures will be colder next weekend, Stanwood said the sportsmen’s association doesn’t want to reschedule the tournament for Feb. 17 because it would conflict with another one that’s already planned for the area.
“Stay tuned,” Stanwood said.