Over the course of a winter, plenty of ice anglers head north to Aroostook County’s Long Lake, one of the few waters in Maine where they have a legitimate chance to land an eight-pound landlocked salmon.
Or a nine-pounder.
Organizers of the Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby understand that, and since the first edition of the event was held, it has become a huge hit with those from the St. John Valley and across the state.
Derby chairman Paul Bernier said organizers are already busy planning for the fifth annual derby, which will be held on Jan. 30 and 31.
The event is sponsored by the town of St. Agatha and the Black Bear Rod & Gun Club.
Among the changes on tap: Even more money will be given out in cash prizes during one of the state’s most well-funded derbies.
“We’re up to $8,000 [for a total purse] this year,” Bernier said on Friday. “Our first derby was a $1,500 purse. Then we jumped to $3,000, then to five, then to six. Now we’re up to eight.”
In the salmon and lake trout divisions, the prize breakdown will be $1,300 for first place, $600 for second and $275 for third. In the brook trout category, the breakdown is $1,000, $600 and $275.
While anglers were limited to Long Lake during the first year of the tourney, organizers swiftly moved to allow fishing on several other nearby waters, including Cross, Square, St. Froid and Eagle lakes.
New this year: A division for fishermen who target muskellunge, which must be caught at Glazier or Beau lakes.
Bernier said that many derby attendees have been lobbying for a muskie category over the past few years.
“The last two, three years, that word, [muskie], has been brought up on numerous occasions, both during the weekend of the derby at the base camp and during our meetings leading up to the derby.”
This year, the largest muskie will earn a lucky angler $500, while second place is worth $300.
Bernier said that organizers don’t want muskies brought to the actual weigh-in station at the Long Lake Sporting Club in Sinclair, however.
“I’ve always been leery of muskie, of having them anywhere near the lake,” Bernier explained.
Muskies have not been reported in Long Lake, and anglers want to keep it that way.
Therefore, all muskellunge will be weighed at John’s Country Store in St. Francis, and those results will be forwarded to the derby headquarters electronically.
Anglers age 13 and younger will pay $5 per day to fish, while those 14 and older can enter for $15 per day or $25 for the weekend.
Football fans will likely notice another big change in the derby this year: For the first time in a few years, it’s not being held on Super Bowl weekend.
This year’s Super Bowl will be held on Feb. 7.
Bernier said he’s excited that the tourney won’t be competing for the attention of anglers who want to get home and make Super Bowl preparations.
“[The date of the Super Bowl] was the first thing I noticed,” Bernier said. “That should have an impact on registrations. That’s the game of the year and will affect turnout.”
Not that the conflict has hurt attendance too much over the years: The derby was held earlier during its first year — 2006 — and 290 anglers registered. In 2007, that number grew to 450; In 2008, 410 anglers showed up; and in 2009, a record 451 participants took part in the event.
Bernier said organizers sent out the first batch of solicitation letters to potential sponsors and have received commitments of $1,800 already. Included in that total is $300 from new sponsors.
“I guess it’s just proof that the project’s getting bigger and the support is there,” Bernier said. “And of course the cause [the Edgar J. Paradis Cancer Fund] is great.
Bernier said after a mild November, winter weather has arrived in northern Aroostook County. In more southern parts of the state, lakes may not freeze for weeks yet. In his neck of the woods, that’s not the case.
“Madawaska Lake is all iced over. Eagle Lake is almost frozen,” Bernier said. “As far as Long Lake, the coves are frozen. And if we hadn’t had the wind that we got today, it’d be close [to frozen over].”
In closing, a quick disclaimer: Close to frozen doesn’t mean close to safe.
It’s up to all of us to make sure we realize that when we go afield, looking for some winter fun.
For more information on the derby, go to www.stagatha.com/derby.asp or call Bernier at 543-6332. You can also send him e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another hunter heard from
Over the past week or so you’ve read accounts of several hunters who spent time in the Maine woods this deer season.
In an earlier query, I had asked readers to share their experiences afield, and to let their fellow hunters know whether the deer herd in their area seemed to have decreased as much as state officials had predicted.
As you might imagine, in a state filled with avid deer hunters, I received plenty of responses. Some, unfortunately, didn’t arrive until after last weekend’s column included a compilation of those commentaries.
This morning I’ll share one more e-mail — this from a man who wrote in response to that Dec. 5 column and who has spent more than 60 years tromping through the woods of Maine.
John O. Leathers of Brownville Junction has a unique perspective that I thought you might enjoy hearing. Leathers pointed out (as others, including biologists, have done before) that harsh winters, in and of themselves, are not the culprit that has devastated the deer herd. Instead, he says, the deer herd takes a beating when harsh winters take place and deer-wintering habitat is limited.
Here’s some of what he had to say:
“Since 1942 I have hunted deer for enjoyment as a guide, a game warden, and lastly for enjoyment again,” Leathers wrote. “I have watched the deer herds from below Greenville to Allagash.
“From 1958 to 1963, by the first of April in Allagash there was four feet of snow on the ground, with the exception of the winter of 1962-1963, when there was seven feet of snow on the ground in all of northern Aroostook County,” Leathers wrote. “Until 1975 I would say that the northwest quarter of the state averaged at least three feet of snow on the ground. Generally since then the snow cover has been somewhat less.
“I don’t feel that the deer and now the moose got into trouble until the tree harvesters came into common use,” he wrote. “There are very few deer yards left to help the deer survive the winter. Snow the last two years was no different than from the middle 1950s to 1975.”
Leathers said the challenges that face the state are vast, and are exacerbated by the inability of the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife to mandate changes that would improve deer habitat.
“As land is basically privately owned, it is very difficult for the DIF&W to do much to regulate cutting practices,” Leathers wrote. “These cutting practices also are having an effect on the moose population. Now it will be years before the woods can get back to normal even if the landowners let them.”
Leathers concluded by saying that the decline of the northern Maine deer herd would lead to financial repercussions in the coming years.
“As I see it, two of the DIF&W’s larger sources of income are at risk along with the deer and moose populations,” he wrote.