Memories of fishing with his dad were on the mind of a St. Johnsbury man as he pulled a huge, prize-worthy rainbow trout through the ice on Lake Willoughby last weekend.

Brock Garand, whose father, Gary, died from cancer in December, won first place in the Willoughby Lake 8th Annual Ice Fishing Tournament with his 8.6-pound, 27½-inch rainbow trout. The fish was more than three pounds heavier than the second-place rainbow trout.

This being the first winter without his father, Brock, age 33, said the fishing experience brings back memories of times spent on area lakes with his dad that began when Brock was 2-years-old. Catching the big trout last Saturday was extra special.

“I felt like he was part of that,” said Brock.

It’s such an impressive fish that Brock is having Walt Driscoll, from Northern Wildlife Taxidermy in Island Pond, mount it.

And Brock’s wasn’t even the biggest fish caught during the tournament. That distinction goes to Brock’s 5-year-old son, Briar, who pulled up a lake trout a tad heavier than his dad’s rainbow. Briar’s fish was 28-inches long and weighed 8.67 pounds.

The three-day tournament is an annual event held by Willoughy Lake Store. There were 110 entries in the adult division and 29 kids participating. Among the children on the lake was Asher Garand, 11, of Danville, who fished with his Uncle Brock and cousin all weekend. He also had success, taking third place in the kids’ division with a lake trout that was 25½ inches long and weighed 5.77 pounds.

The fishing on Friday and Saturday wasn’t bad, with multiple flags signaling fish on the end of the line, Brock said, which made it fun for Briar and Asher.

“They were excited every time they saw a flag,” Brock said.

Sunday was different as the fish weren’t biting. Only one flag popped, but it was the one that mattered most for Briar as it signaled his big lake trout was on the line. Even though it was the biggest fish caught during the tournament, it didn’t qualify for “the biggest lunker” prize because Brock had not entered his son into that category. Brock won the prize with his rainbow trout.

Taking part in the tournament had added significance for Garands as raffle money raised went to the HALO Foundation in Orleans County. The foundation assists cancer patients with needs.

This was the first year that the store raised money for a charitable organization through the tournament. Store owners, Melissa and Andrew Zebrowski said it was a good opportunity to help a great organization, especially since Wright’s Sport Shop wasn’t able to hold their ice fishing tournament this year because of concerns related to COVID. The Wright’s tournament raises money for HALO. The cancer support organization was started by the Wright family.

It had added meaning for the Zebrowskis to benefit HALO through their tournament as Andrew’s mother died from cancer. “It’s something that’s close to our hearts too,” said Melissa Zebrowski.

The money raised through the tournament was through ticket sales for a 50/50 raffle, which usually means half of the collected money goes to the winning ticket holder and half goes to an organization, but not this time. The winner, Barb Lacoss, of Brownington, who owns the Gap Pub and Grill in Westmore with her husband, Mike, directed 100 percent of the ticket sales money go to HALO.

That wasn’t the only generosity that played out through the tournament. The Zebrowskis said two fishermen they buy bait smelts from to sell in their store donated the money back to the store so the Zebrowskis could provide gifts to the children fishing in the tournament.

“All the kids were incredible,” said Melissa Zebrowski. “There were so many of them out there.”

“The kids are the biggest thing for the wife and I,” said Andrew Zebrowski, “making sure they all walked away with something.”

He said he was glad Brock had the boys out there fishing with him. “That’s what it’s all about.” And he especially liked Briar’s enthusiasm over his big fish.

“He was unbelievably happy,” said Andrew Zebrowski.

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