With another cold snap and snowstorm behind us, ice anglers across the state are enjoying nearly perfect conditions for weekend trips to their favorite fishing holes.
And if you’re one of those people who only fish once or twice a winter, there are a couple of good reasons to make this weekend one of those occasions.
Anglers will flock to two of the state’s most popular ice-fishing derbies this weekend, with thousands of dollars in prize money up for grabs.
All you have to do is make the trip, pay your entry fee, spend a couple of enjoyable days on the ice … and hope for the best.
Sound like fun? Read on.
Let’s start way up north, where organizers are gearing up for the 4th annual Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby.
The derby actually includes Long, Cross, Square, Eagle and St. Froid lakes, and anglers can target different species on different waters.
On Long Lake, the emphasis will likely be on the landlocked salmon that have made the lake famous. Over on Eagle Lake, derby chairman Paul Bernier said tourney-winning brook trout, cusk and lake trout are possible.
Bernier said he’s not sure how many anglers will show up.
“It’s hard to gauge [interest] right now because everybody watches the weather and it’s a last-minute thing,” Bernier said on Wednesday. “It just gives me a coronary every year.”
He needn’t worry much: Registrations have increased in each of the derby’s three years, with about 420 anglers participating in 2008.
Derby tickets are available at 20 outlets across the St. John Valley, and anglers can also register at the Long Lake Sporting Club in Sinclair on Saturday and Sunday.
Adults pay $15 for a one-day ticket and $25 for a two-day entry, while children age 15 and younger pay $5 per day.
Tourney officials will pay out $6,000 in prize money, including $1,000 cash to three category winners.
In past years, the Long Lake Derby has succeeded in spite of fickle Aroostook County weather, Bernier said.
“Our first three derbies, we’ve had a storm on one of the two days every year,” Bernier said. “They’re saying [temperatures will be] in the 20s and no precipitation issues [this year]. It’s going to be beautiful.”
Bernier estimated that 75 percent of the entrants each year fish on Long Lake, hoping to hook a hefty football-shaped salmon. Eagle Lake also draws a nice crowd. Those looking for a bit more solitude can find it on the other three lakes.
Early-rising anglers may want to head to Wisdom High School in St. Agatha on Sunday morning to enjoy a breakfast provided by the school’s junior class. The meal will be served from 5 a.m. until 10:30 a.m.
If the weather’s good, Bernier said some of those students might hop on snowmobiles equipped with heated containers and sell a few meals on Long Lake.
Bernier said the local community has continued to rally behind the event, which serves as a fundraiser for the Edgar J. Paradis Cancer Fund.
“One thing that’s up this year, which is a surprise considering the economic situation, is sponsorships,” Bernier said.
A year ago, derby organizers sold $5,900 in sponsorships. This year that total is already approaching $7,500.
I’ve attended the derby two of the last three years, and will try to dredge up an award-winner again this year. Rich Rossignol of Madawaska has graciously invited me to join his party — or perhaps I invited myself … it’s hard to recall. Either way, I look forward to spending another wonderful weekend and making new friends on one of my favorite Maine lakes.
A bit farther south, fishermen can enjoy some fast fishing and help the state’s fisheries managers at the same time.
The second annual Moosehead Lake Togue Derby with Ricky Craven will be held on Saturday and Sunday, and Maine’s largest lake will undoubtedly be hopping.
A year ago, 494 anglers combined to haul 2,024 lake trout out of Moosehead, which in turn helped biologists in their goal of reducing the number of togue in the lake.
Due to the lake’s massive togue population, too many fish are competing for the forage base and the growth rate of the fish is slow.
Removing several thousand small togue during the winter season was announced as a goal, and the derby proved to be an effective tool. It didn’t hurt that anglers received a raffle ticket for each togue they registered, as they will this year. There is no limit to the number of fish under 18 inches that can be registered.
Three door prizes will be awarded to lucky anglers who merely entered the derby, and another 150 prizes will be handed out to those who register fish during the event.
Add in the prize pool — $1,500 will go to the angler who catches the biggest fish in each of three categories, with $500 and $250 awarded to second- and third-place finishers — and you’ve got the makings of an awesome event.
In addition, former NASCAR driver Craven will be on the lake for much of Saturday meeting and greeting anglers.
Bob Hamer, the executive director of the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce, which runs the derby, said it’s impossible to estimate the number of anglers who will show up, but last year showed him how quickly numbers can grow.
“Last year when I went home on Thursday night [before the derby] I had sold 84 tickets. On Friday and on Saturday morning we sold over 400 tickets,” Hamer said. “It’s the same kind of thing this year. We’ve only sold 55 tickets. I’m trying not to stress out.”
The entry fee is $25 for individuals and $40 for families.