MILO, Maine — Herbert Carey has seen a lot of ice anglers come and go as a volunteer for the Milo Fire Department’s long-running Schoodic Lake Ice Fishing Derby.
Carey is now 85 years old. The derby celebrated its 52nd edition over the weekend. And the energetic retiree has measured and weighed fish for all 52 years.
On Saturday morning, Carey was back at Knight’s Landing in Brownville, like he is most years, chatting with other volunteers and waiting for lucky anglers to stop by with a fish or two.
“It’s just something to do, and it’s been fun for all those 52 years,” Carey said, taking time to talk during a lull in the fish-weighing. He says the secret to the derby’s success is pretty simple.
“We try to keep it going the way we keep it going,” Carey said. “You know what I mean? We do our thing and you do your thing. It’s a two-way street.”
The formula seems to work.
According to Leon Brown, the derby’s chairman, 3,500 tickets were printed for this year’s affair, which coincides with the start of February school vacation and falls on the state’s free fishing weekend each year. As of noon Saturday, all the tickets hadn’t been sold, but all had been delivered to various ticket-selling outposts. That’s the first time that has ever happened, he said. Those staffing the ticket-selling locations call to ask for more entry forms when they run out, and last year Brown was still holding 300 tickets that nobody needed at the end of the event. Generally, 2,500-3,000 tickets are sold.
Brown said that during a cold Maine winter, recreational opportunities can be hard to find. The Schoodic Lake derby capitalizes on that, and gives ice anglers a reason to head out on Schoodic, Seboeis and Ebeemee lakes.
“It’s the Fourth of July of the winter,” Brown said. “If you ran this derby in the summer you wouldn’t get half the turnout because there are so [many] other places for people to go. You see the camps [on Schoodic Lake]? They’re just full of people. They plan on [participating in the derby].”
The Milo Fire Department organizes the event, and proceeds go to a number of charities, both in and around Milo and across the state, Brown said.
Brown said the derby was once ranked eighth by a national publication in a list of the world’s best ice fishing derbies, and said participants travel long distances to take place. Over the weekend, participants came from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Florida, he said.
Making a shorter trip was Mike Brissette of Vassalboro, who headed north to visit his sister, enjoy a vacation, and participate in the derby.
By noon Saturday, Brissette had visited Carey’s crew at the registration shack at Knight’s Landing, where he registered a lake trout and a landlocked salmon.
The salmon was particularly impressive, measuring about 23 inches long and weighing in at 4.97 pounds. The fish was the largest salmon Brissette has ever caught.
“I actually saw the flag go up, so I was lucky in that respect,” Brissette said. “It went down and up probably seven or eight times. It fought pretty hard, but I was patient. And when he got up in the hole, I stuck my arm down [and hauled it out].”
Carey has never fished in the derby and is content to measure the catch of others. He remembers a 19-pound lake trout he weighed several years ago, and is proud of the work the fire department has done over the years, and said the group’s cooperation with regional fisheries biologists has paid dividends, as well.
“One year we had tapeworms,” he said, referring to fish in the lake, not the derby organizers.
After working with biologists, derby organizers determined that seagulls were the cause of the outbreak, and steps were taken to solve the problem.
Gordon “Nels” Kramer, a longtime fisheries biologist whose regional staff is responsible for managing the Schoodic fishery, said derby organizers have always been willing to work with his staff and regularly provide useful information to biologists.
“From time to time we’ve suggested that the collect scale samples, stomach samples, [and] they’ve modified their derby regulations to reflect, I guess, our fishery management desires,” Kramer said. “[And they collect] a massive amount of information, all the lengths and weights and fin clips of all the salmon and brook trout and togue and all the other species that they handle … It assists us for our fisheries management plan for the lake and it helps them as well understand some of the dynamics of some of these fisheries.”
After 52 years manning the scales, Carey doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all. The derby chairman says that’s not necessarily the case.
“He died a few years ago,” Brown said, recounting how the then 80-year-old, who walked 2 miles in order to take part in the Dover-Foxcroft Fourth of July parade, collapsed on the parade route.
According to Brown, Carey collapsed within 10 feet of a nurse who was equipped with a defibrillator, and who administered the immediate first aid Carey needed.
Today, Carey still enjoys greeting the anglers and hearing their stories. After so many years, Carey figures there’s not much tinkering that needs to be done to improve the already popular event.
“They always come out and give us a good time,” Carey said.
Category winners in this year’s derby: Togue: Ken Jay of Milo, 11.8 pounds; Landlocked salmon, Don Emerson, Milford, 5.1 pounds; Brook trout, Alan Albert, Bangor, 3.62 pounds; Pickerel: Taylor Severence, LaGrange, 2.94 pounds; Cusk: Steve Boone, Pittsfield, 4.51 pounds; Bass: Jim Brawn, Hudson, 4.12 pounds; White perch: Craig Light, Sabattus, 1.55 pounds. For complete results, visit www.trcmaine.org/fishingderby.