Anglers looking for a challenge — and the chance to catch a fish far larger than they’ve ever caught before — might want to consider heading north this weekend for an event that has quickly become an Aroostook County classic.
The sixth annual Fort Kent International Muskie Derby is on tap, and organizers are eagerly awaiting the arrival of 300 or more anglers looking to tangle with the region’s feisty muskellunge.
This year’s derby runs from Friday through Sunday, and anglers will again be fishing the St. John River and its tributaries, including Glazier and Beau lakes, and the St. Francis, Allagash and Fish rivers.
One of the organizers, Darlene Kelly Dumond, said that after a rainy, cool couple of months, it seems that summer has finally arrived in Fort Kent.
“The weather [forecast] is beautiful, that’s the reports we’re getting,” Dumond said on Wednesday. “Perfect fishing temperatures, in the 70s, with no rain. Fort Kent is seeing the sunshine, finally. That’s the big thing.”
In some years, the water level on the rivers has been a concern — during one derby the water was at flood stage; during some other derbies, navigating the waterways has been more challenging due to low water.
This year, there’s no such concern.
“This year the water’s high enough that [participants] can go anywhere [on the rivers],” Dumond said.
And they already are, she reported.
“The guys are out there already on the river, scouting, and they’re catching the muskies,” Dumond said.
Each year a few muskies top the 40-inch barrier, but Dumond said a recent report from her father, Allagash guide Tylor Kelly, indicates that there are far larger fish in at least one lake.
“My dad told me that Maine biologists shocked Glazier [Lake] to do some studies and the found 50-inch muskies,” Dumond said. “We are expecting some big, big fish this year.”
Last year’s derby-winner was a 43-inch, 19.688-pound muskellunge caught by Calvin Bowie.
Dumond said pre-derby registration has been brisk, and those interested in entering the event can do so on the Internet (www.fortkent-muskie.com) until Thursday night. After that, they can register at the Fort Kent town office or at Bee-Jay’s Tavern downtown. Information is available at 834-5354 or 834-3090.
An added attraction for this year’s participants: You don’t have to catch one of the three largest muskies to take home some cash. In past years, only the top three (and top three youth anglers) finished in the money.
“We changed our pay-down formula for prizes. We’re awarding prizes to the first 10 instead of the first three,” Dumond said. “The smallest amount they can win [for 10th place] is $100. That would easily pay back their $35 entry fee.”
This year’s winner will take home $3,500.
In addition, each of the first 300 anglers to enter the derby has a chance to win up to $20,000 in a contest that will be held during the awards ceremony. The only catches: The angler must be present to cash in, and their name must be the one drawn randomly to play the game.
“[One lucky angler comes] forward and they draw from envelopes until they have five matching amounts,” Dumond said. “The least they can win is $500 and the most is $20,000.”
Another prize will be given to the best-dressed angler in the derby.
Dumond said that one of the popular features from past derbies remains: The muskie tournament isn’t the only show in town over the weekened.
“Our community again has joined together with the chamber of commerce’s ploye festival to host events all weekend,” Dumond said. “We have our street dances, we have our fireworks show. We have our ploye festival with the world’s largest ploye. And this year, our new addition, Dr. John Bouchard is hosting a tractor show with antique and other tractors, and a tractor-pulling contest.”
Adult registration for the derby is $35, while youth registration is $15.
Dumond said that after enduring a rainy summer, Fort Kent is drying out and the town is abuzz as the derby approaches.
“We’ve finally got the sun. In Fort Kent we take what we get and appreciate it and it seems to be working for us this week,” she said.
Got a muskie recipe?
While attending the derby in past years, I’ve been able to sample some of the muskies that have been donated to the cause cooked at “Derby Central.”
Pretty tasty, I’ve got to say.
Unfortunately, I never caught a muskie of my own … and never cooked one up at home.
Earlier this week a reader e-mailed looking for some advice on how to cook a slab of muskellunge that a friend had given her … and I’ve got no idea what to tell her.
If you’ve got a tasty muskie recipe you’d care to pass along, or some cooking tips, I’ll make sure she gets an answer to her query.