The sun was just peeking over the eastern hills early Sunday morning when Rich Rossignol stopped for a break after drilling five holes in the 18-inch-thick Long Lake ice and setting up his long line of traps.
“I don’t think I’ve ever said this before, but after yesterday, 17-below feels downright balmy,” I told the Madawaska angler.
“No wind,” he said. “That makes all the difference.”
On Saturday — the first day of the fifth annual Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby — we hadn’t been that lucky.
The temperature never topped five degrees.
The wind blew at a constant 25 mph or so (with plenty of more substantial gusts tossed in for good measure).
And even the most hardy anglers in our group admitted it was a good day to stay inside.
Of course, with a total prize pool of $8,000 up for grabs, staying home wasn’t an option (even though Rossignol’s house sits right on the shore of Long Lake).
Instead, we checked our traps as quickly as possible, tried to change our bait without freezing our fingers off, and spent much of the day inside Rossignol’s spacious, well-heated ice shack.
On Saturday, flags flew quite regularly, with a number of small and average-sized landlocked salmon keeping anglers busy. On Sunday, the action was noticeably slower, and anglers spent more time chatting and less time actually chasing flags.
None in our group cashed in on the big prizes, but all of us had one thing in common: We ate well.
Saturday’s mid-day meal consisted of canned moose meat, onions and al dente potatoes. “Al dente,” Rossignol told us, is the term he prefers to use when he undercooks the spuds … not that we were complaining.
Sunday’s feast was a monstrous vat of chili — four pounds of steak, four pounds of ground beef and four pounds of sausage provide the foundation for Rossignol’s secret recipe — and we barely made a dent in the supply despite repeated heaping helpings and plenty of lunchtime visitors.
Paul Bernier, the derby chairman, checked in via e-mail Monday and said this year’s event, which benefits the Edgar J. Paradis Cancer Fund, was the largest ever. In all, 566 anglers registered.
Casey Cote of Frenchville took home the $1,300 first price in the landlocked salmon category with a 6-pound, 5.2-ounce lunker. Steve Plourde of St. David won $600 for second place with a 5-pound, 10.2-ounce fish. Robert Wheelock of Augusta landed a 5-pound, 5.8-ounce salmon and won $275.
In the lake trout category, Rodney Boucher of Winterville won $1,300 with a 6-pound, 1.4-ounce togue. Spencer Maynard of Caribou earned $600 with a 5-pound, 11.2-ounce fish, while Allan O’Clair’s 4-pound, 15.2-ounce laker earned the angler $275.
Mike Thibodeau of Frenchville took the brook trout class and $1,000 with a fish that weighed 2 pounds, 4.4 ounces. Shawn Treadwell of Hermon (2 pounds, 1.8 ounces) took second and $600 while Wayne Bennett of Eagle Lake (1 pound, 14.4 ounces) earned third place and the $275 prize.
Danny Jalbert took the $500 prize for the biggest muskellunge (10 pounds, 6 ounces), Steve Raymond of Hermon caught the largest cusk (9 pounds, 7.2 ounces, worth $250), and Anthony Rosario of Gorham won the $50 “booby prize” for catching and registering 246 perch.
Alec Thibeault of St. David won the landlocked salmon category for kids age 13 and younger with a 3 pound, 5.6 ounce fish. Miranda Jandreau of Mapleton won the youth togue category with a 5-pound, 2.2-ounce laker. Isabella Dunnells of Cornish topped the youth entries in the brook trout category with her 1-pound, 6.8-ounce brookie.
Moosehead derby entries chilled
Over at Moosehead Lake, Bob Hamer of the Moosehead Lake Chamber of Commerce said the cold weather may have been to blame for fewer entries in the 3rd annual Moosehead Lake Togue Ice Fishing Derby with former NASCAR driver Ricky Craven.
In a post-derby e-mail report, Hamer said the weather, along with iffy ice conditions, likely took a toll.
“Last Tuesday morning I was still not sure if the wardens were going to give approval for the derby,” Hamer wrote. “Wednesday morning we finally received positive feedback on the ice conditions and we knew we would have a derby. Of course, by that time the anglers were aware that the weather on Friday, Saturday and Sunday was going to be miserable.
“Ticket sales reflected all of this with 307 tickets sold,” Hamer wrote. “Last year we sold 409. For once the weathermen were right and it was cold … so cold that few anglers stayed out long and catches were way down.”
Consequently, only 255 togue were registered for the derby. Anglers were allowed to register as many as five togue apiece. A year ago, in response to fisheries biologists’ requests for anglers to help reduce the togue population, anglers could register as many togue as they wanted. A total of 1,864 fish were registered in 2009.
Richard Petrin of Arundel took top honors in the derby with a 25½-inch togue that weighed 4.69 pounds. Jared Smith took second with a 25¼-incher that weighed 4.60 pounds. Wendell Harvey was third with a 23¾-inch togue that weighed 3.91 pounds.