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Voices Fall-Winter 2005:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read “Tyke’s Ice Fishing Contest” by Ruby Marcotte here.
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Voices cover FW2005


Volume 31

Tyke's Ice Fishing Contest by Ruby Marcotte

I recently had the pleasure of having lunch with some good friends, George Ward and Catherine and Alex Manuele, at a little main street diner in Whitehall, New York. We were there to interview a local man named Steven Phillips, but called Tyke by many. I had heard about Tyke, the owner and operator of Tyke’s Bait Shop on New York Route 22 in Whitehall, but more importantly, I was interested in the story behind an ice fishing contest that he has been hosting for the past twenty-eight years on South Bay, Lake Champlain, just north of Whitehall.

Steven "Tyke" Phillips (standing) admires a contestant's catch.
Steven "Tyke" Phillips (standing) admires a contestant’ catch. Photo: George Ward

There is no trouble getting him to talk about what has turned into a most satisfying endeavor with the local parents and children. Tyke’s goal has been to provide a way for families to spend a day together doing something that is a hobby for many in the area. While listening to Tyke talk about the people who have participated in the ice fishing contest year after year, one thing is clear: Tyke loves children.

A lot of work has to be done before the big day. New York state troopers, game wardens, and many volunteers—some who participated in the ice fishing contest when they were kids—plow the snow from the ice and drill hundreds of holes. In 1976, the first year of the contest, about forty Boy Scouts and a few girls participated. Tyke asked one little girl, “Did you catch a fish?” She looked up at him and replied, “No.” “Well,” Tyke says, “there is nothing worse than seeing a little girl with a sad face.” So he went back to his house and returned with fifty one-dollar bills. Tyke climbed up on a snowbank and threw the money into the wind. The kids all scattered and caught the money as it came down. Tyke invited the ones who caught two or three dollars over to the hot dog stand; he wanted to tell them something. “Now you boys are Scouts, and I want to see what kind of men you are. Some of those girls didn’t get any dollars. What do you think ought to happen?”

The boys shared the dollars with some of the girls, and the Lucky Buck was born. “Now that shows a little love, right there,” Tyke told them. From then on, Tyke would go to the bank and get crisp new one-dollar bills and sign each one with his name and date, to be handed out to young and old alike. His Lucky Buck has become his trademark. I think he asks everyone he sees if they have one, and if they say no, he pulls out his wallet and hands them a personalized Lucky Buck.

Tyke's Bait Shop in Whitehall, NY
Tyke’s Bait Shop in Whitehall, New York. Photo: George Ward

My friends and I decided to attend the 2005 event. At the water’s edge a little trailer is set up, and volunteers give out free hotdogs and hamburgers. Tyke adds, “The kids can have all the beer they want—as long as there’s a root in front of it.” A big hit of the day is always the generator-powered cotton candy machine operated by Jack Eggleston, the local judge, and Joe Hamlin. They work nonstop for hours providing kids and adults with a delightfully sticky confection.

As the kids fish, they bring their catch to a trailer that features photos and mounted prize fish from years past. Jeff Hamlin, Joe’s son and a former child contestant, is on hand to help. Jeff’s two young daughters are in the contest this year, making them the third generation to fish in Tyke’s contest. At the trailer kids from two to sixteen count out the fish they have just caught and put them in a tub. Size doesn’t matter: the fish range from hardly bigger than a minnow to many inches long. Participants are given a bright orange ticket for each fish caught. These tickets are very important, because later in the contest, the tickets will be randomly drawn for gracious gifts, bought with the love of children in mind. I notice that as the afternoon winds down and the contest is about to close, Tyke goes around asking all the kids if they caught a fish and got a ticket. If they hadn’t caught any that day he would lead them up to the trailer and pick a fish out of the tub. Then he would say, “Here, catch.” The children would put out their hands, catch the fish, and Tyke would give them an orange ticket to assure that they would get a prize later on. Tyke wanted to guarantee that every—yes, every—kid who participated would win a prize. He and his volunteers would scout around the stores for prizes all year long, buying bicycles, stuffed animals, and fish poles, children’s outdoor equipment, camping gear, and more fish poles.

While the fishing is going on outdoors, inside a local restaurant at the South Bay boat launch, preparations are being made for the grand finale of the day. It is here that all of the contestants will gather to receive their prizes while parents, grandparents, and friends look on. When Tyke enters the room, there is no doubt that he is much loved for the years of dedication he has put into the ice fishing contest. He is quick to point out that the reason everyone is there is because of the kids, and he gets started right away giving out the prizes. The joy, anticipation, and excitement on all of the children’s faces is priceless. They wait for their turn to be called to the front of the room for the prize of the day. I can hear a little girl about four years old behind me, who has just won a teddy bear. She comes back to her dad and says, “But Dad, I wanted a fishing pole. Can’t I trade the bear in and get a fish pole? I want to be able to go fishing with you.” The teddy bear is gladly exchanged for the fish pole, and all is well with the little one.

It is evident during our conversation over lunch that one thing motivates this eighty-three- year-old man. He just plain loves children. “I like to teach the kids about love,” Tyke says, “and I’ve always loved kids.” The day of fishing may be cold and blustery, but because of Tyke’s love and generosity, there is a warm place in the hearts of all those who attend Steve “Tyke” Phillips’s Ice Fishing Derby for Kids.


Ruby Marcotte is a traditional artist descended from the Sacandaga Valley Abenakis, French Canadians, and eighteenth-century New England settlers. She is assistant director of the Black Crow Network, a not-for-profit educational and cultural organization. She is active in her community, serving as municipal historian for the town of Day in northern Saratoga County.

New York state troopers, game wardens, and many volunteers—some who participated in the ice fishing contest when they were kids—plow the snow from the ice and drill hundreds of holes.

This article appeared in Voices Vol. 31, Fall-Winter 2005. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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