When Jason Clark was a young boy, he remembers his uncle visiting each winter and making a brief and direct sales pitch for an upcoming fishing derby he was helping to organize.
“I remember him coming into the house with a book of tickets and telling my dad, ‘I’ve got a book of tickets, give me a check,’” Jason Clark remembers.
That derby, sponsored and run by MAINEiacs Charities, was a highlight of the winter for many local ice anglers who flocked to the lakes of Hancock County for the yearly affair.
After Brian Clark died in 1997, however, the derby quickly withered. It was last held in 1998, and though a number of other fishing tournaments have been staged on the same productive waters, many still bemoan the demise of the MAINEiacs Derby.
On Saturday, those anglers will finally get their wish: Clark and a group of fellow members of the Maine Air National Guard — The MAINEiacs — have joined forces to resurrect the derby.
This year’s tourney will be a one-day affair, and anglers will be allowed to fish five Hancock County hotspots: Beech Hill Pond, Green Lake, Branch Lake, Phillips Lake and Graham Lake.
Proceeds will go to MAINEiacs Charities, which Clark says supports members of Maine military families and local communities.
Clark knew the derby was popular during its day, and participated in it as a young boy. He wasn’t entirely prepared for the outpouring of support, however.
He became a bit more aware of local interest in the event when organizers decided to run a radio advertisement that included his cell phone number.
“I was foolish enough to put my cell phone on [the ad],” he said. “This phone is driving me nuts. Nonstop vibrating, nonstop ringing.”
But Clark is happy he’s among those who have helped revive an event that his uncle spent so much time and effort promoting.
“It is kind of cool,” he said. “I’m picking up a legacy, if you will. I can’t take all the credit because there’s numerous people that are helping us out, and who paved the way for us to do this.”
Clark remembers spending time on Branch Lake participating in the annual derby, and said that during the 1990s, the event had become immensely popular.
“When it was in its prime it was the biggest fishing derby in the state,” Clark said.
The base of operations for this year’s derby will be Dunn’s seaplane base on the West Shore Road of Beech Hill Pond. Access to Dunn’s can be found by heading to Beech Hill Pond from Green Lake Road, or by approaching from Route 180 in Ellsworth.
The derby will run from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday and all weigh-ins must take place at Dunn’s before 6 p.m.
Big fish prizes will be awarded for the longest three salmon, togue and pickerel, while bass will be judged on weight. Top prize in each category is $100, while second prize is worth $75 and third takes home $50.
Food will be available at the weigh station and a 50-50 raffle will be held there as well.
Tickets cost $5 apiece, and all angler who buy tickets are entered in the shore prize drawings, during which more than $2,500 in prizes will be handed out.
“The best thing about [the prizes] is that I kind of expected the bigger businesses to support [the derby] and give the biggest prizes, but the smaller local businesses, the mom-and-pops have been the ones that have really gotten behind it as well,” Clark said.
Among the top prizes are a canoe, a kayak, an ice shack, an ice auger and a GPS.
Tickets can be bought at the weigh-in station, at a number of local bait shops, and by calling one of the MAINEiacs organizers.
To buy tickets from the MAINEiacs, contact Joelene French at 990-7101, Gerry Martin at 990-7724, Kim Lander at 990-7363, Scott Fish at 990-7152, Gerald Bussell at 659-2625, Andrea Trafton at 990-7336 or Kerry Karst at 990-7253. If you really get in a pinch, you can also call Clark’s extremely busy cell phone at 949-4431.
Clark said that response to the derby’s return has been fantastic, and said he has received calls from anglers across the state looking to buy tickets. Others have called asking how to get to certain lakes.
“The number one response I’m getting is, ‘It’s about time you started this derby back up,’” Clark said. “We’re really on cloud nine.”
On cloud nine, perhaps. But that doesn’t mean he and organizers aren’t making bold plans for future events.
“Hopefully in the next couple of years we’ll be able to take this statewide and make it a real staple, and get some out-of-state tourists in to fish as well,” he said.