BANGOR, Maine — Over the course of an ice fishing season, dozens of derbies are held around the state. In most cases, all you’ve got to do to participate is choose one, make sure it’s being held within a reasonable drive of your home, is on a lake you’d like to fish and features a species of fish you know how to catch.
Then there’s the fishing tournament Wes Ashe and his pals dreamed up back in 2011. It’s got a simple name — this year it’s the sixth Annual Ice Fishin’ Derby — and even simpler rules. And if it sounds like the kind of thing a bunch of college guys thought up while they were sitting around fishing, that’s what it should sound like.
“When I developed it, I was at [the University of Maine], and we had all these people that loved to go to all of these different waters all over the state,” Ashe explained. “They’re just these crazy fishermen. So I started this derby, and it’s really unlike any other derby.”
What sets it apart? Well, everything. Basic rules: Any fish. Any water. Any time.
“It takes place from Dec. 1 to March 31, and it takes place on any water in the state of Maine that’s open to ice fishing,” Ashe said. “And you can fish for any species of fish. You can fish for pickerel or pike or brook trout or white perch, whatever you want.
That’s just a partial list: Ashe said his semi-official list of approved species includes 28 different kinds of fish, including some, such as the rainbow smelt and golden shiner, most people think of as bait.
The derby essentials:
— Anyone can enter the derby by sending $10 to Wes Ashe at 60 Fern St., Apt. 2, Bangor, 04401.
— All fish entries are submitted via email. Anglers take a photo of the fish they caught beside a ruler (to show length), and the derby card that proves the angler actually caught it and is a derby participant.
— Any other information can be obtained by sending Ashe an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Typically, between 20 and 40 anglers participate in a given year. At the end of the season, the longest fish in each of the 28 species classes is crowned the champ. Catch the longest in three classes, and you earn three tokens for the random draw for the derby’s cash prize — half the total proceeds.
And where the other half of the proceeds end up is the best part, Ashe will tell you.
For the past five years — after the death of Ashe’s high school friend Alec Cyr — the derby has served as a benefit for Cyr’s son, Chase. Chase was born just five months before his dad succumbed to colon cancer, and the money earned each year is put into Chase’s college fund.
Ashe remembers learning his old friend died after a fishing outing of his own. The two had talked just a couple of months earlier, and the cancer had been in remission. Alec Cyr was in good spirits, Ashe said.
“A few months later I was fishing, I came out of the woods, and on my voicemail there was a message saying that Alec had died,” Ashe said. “I had started the fishing derby the year before, so, I said, ‘this year when I do this, there’s going to be a benefit side to it.’”
Ashe said about $2,000 has been raised for Chase thus far, and he hopes the derby catches on with more anglers so that more money can be raised.
During a year when ice is in relatively short supply, Ashe said his derby is the perfect cure for antsy anglers looking for a place to fish.
“With derbies being postponed, this is a good opportunity to select the waters you want,” he said. “So if you want to go to a small water with safe ice, you can do that.”
Ashe said the original participants were diehard anglers who often traveled hundreds of miles and went to lakes across the state, targeting many different species.
But he said success in the derby doesn’t require anglers to dedicate themselves to a winter of travel.
“All you really need is one good day of fishing,” he explained. “If you enter the derby and you pay your 10 bucks, then, say, you go to Pushaw Lake and you catch a good yellow perch, a good white perch, a good smallmouth bass and one of those pike, you have the potential of doing really well [in the standings] in one afternoon.
“It’s not like you have to spend the whole four months fishing every other day,” he said. “All it takes is a good day on the ice.”