Tom Noonan and his Sebago Lake Rotary colleagues hoped that after staging an ill-fated fishing derby a few weeks back, cold weather would take over, lakes would freeze solid, and their group’s Maine Chevrolet Statewide Derby could proceed as planned.
That didn’t happen.
Fearing a statewide repeat of the Sebago derby, during which rapidly deteriorating ice conditions forced a Sunday cancellation and evacuation of the state’s second-largest lake, the club has scrapped the statewide event scheduled for this weekend.
Well, kind of.
“We’re canceling the fishing part of the derby,” Noonan clarified on Wednesday, a day after the decision was made.
Noonan explained that while no fishing will be done, all of the derby’s prizes, including $7,000 in cash, $3,000 worth of Hannaford gift cards, $2,000 in Cabela’s gift cards, an ATV and a Chevy Silverado truck, will be given away by random draw.
“We had an emergency board meeting last night,” Noonan said. “We polled our weigh stations. I had 19 out of 25 weigh stations reporting dangerous ice conditions in their area.”
In order to run a statewide derby, organizers enlist the cooperation of weigh-in sites in communities around Maine. Conditions in Cross Lake may have been the best, with weigh-station operators reporting 30 inches of ice. Springfield reported 18 to 24 inches of ice on West Grand Lake, while some other areas had more marginal — but safe — ice.
Conditions were highly variable, however, even within the same region.
In the extreme northern Maine town of St. Francis, for instance, some were concerned with the safety of anglers who might be tempted to take part in the tourney.
“[The operators of the St. Francis weigh station] said there was a lot of water moving down the St. John [River], and the warden was concerned with people that didn’t know the area,” Noonan said.
“So, with widespread stuff we were concerned about, do we shut down [the derby] partially? Or do we shut down the whole thing?” Noonan said, explaining the questions the Rotary board had to answer. “We thought it was equitable to shut down the whole thing.”
On Wednesday the Maine War-den Service issued a statewide ice advisory, warning anglers and snowmobilers about unsafe conditions that exist in many parts of the state.
Noonan said that canceling the fishing portion of the derby was a last resort that all board members hoped could be avoided.
“All factors were considered, and [the earlier situation during the Sebago derby] was one of them,” Noonan said. “We took e-mails off ice-fishing chat rooms, read those, polled 25 weigh stations, talked to wardens all over the state … it was not a decision that was made lightly.”
During the popular Sebago derby, several ATVs and snowmobiles fell through the ice and had to be retrieved by their owners.
A diver trying to retrieve one of those ATVs died during a salvage operation after the event was can-celed.
Noonan said that the roughly 1,200 anglers who entered the Se-bago derby were automatically en-tered in the statewide event. Those who entered the statewide derby and want a refund of their $20 entry fee will receive one.
Those anglers should go to www.icefishmaine.com and make the request before the prize drawing on Tuesday.
Noonan said he knows some anglers disagree with the board’s decision, but he hopes that people don’t direct their ire at the beneficiaries of the charity event, which include Good Shepherd Food Bank.
“No matter what happens, some-body’s going to be upset. We’ve just got to take it on the chin and move forward,” Noonan said. “We’re doing it as a fundraiser for charities, so how it affects them is my main concern. If someone wants to yell at me, fine. But don’t take it out on the charities.”
Those who entered the derby surely hoped to be fishing this weekend, but it seems as though many will take part in the derby giveaway anyway.
Noonan said that weigh stations reported a surge in derby entrants on Wednesday, after the board’s decision was made.
That wasn’t entirely unexpected, he said, because many derby participants enter the week of the event.
“The last 48 hours usually [accounts for] the lion’s share [of entrants],” he said.
And while those who caught the biggest fish were to be rewarded after the statewide derby, that prize pool will now be disbursed randomly.
Noonan said that several entrants were hoping that a particular angler’s luck didn’t hold out.
Butch DeSanctis of Durham was easily the luckiest fisherman in the Sebago derby, after all.
DeSanctis caught the biggest fish during the one-day derby, a 9.62-pound lake trout that earned him a boat, motor and trailer.
He also won the Skidoo Tundra snowmobile in a random drawing.
“Now everybody’s sweating bullets that he’s going to win a truck,” Noonan said. “If he does, he’s probably going to have to move.”