At many of the ice fishing derbies you’ll find around the state this winter, avid anglers will head to a favorite lake in hopes that they can compete with the others fishing the same water, but with little hope of catching a really big fish.
That’s the way most lakes are, after all: You don’t find massive brook trout, or landlocked salmon, or lake trout, or muskellunge just anywhere. Those lunkers live only in a few spots across the length and breadth of Maine.
But there’s at least one derby that’s different.
This weekend, anglers will flock to the St. John Valley in northern Maine, where they not only will have their choice of 10 waters to fish, but will have honest-to-goodness shots at catching some of the state’s largest specimens of a variety of fish species.
Want a huge muskellunge? Go to Beau Lake. Or Glazier Lake. Or heck, fish the St. John River.
How about a big brookie? Maybe You’ll try Eagle Lake, or Long Lake.
A once-in-a-lifetime landlocked salmon? You might want to head to the spacious Long Lake (although last year’s lunker landlock was surprisingly hauled out of Eagle.
Or a trophy togue? Eagle has that covered … but so does Carr Pond … and Beau Lake.
Welcome to the 13th edition of the Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby, which, if you haven’t yet guessed, is nearly comically mis-named nowadays, given all the choices of waters available for participants.
During the first year of the derby, just over 200 anglers took part during an event that was held solely on Long Lake — thus, the name. Last year, a record 1,043 registered for the event that is spread across the far northern tier of the state.
“[Being able to pick and choose where to fish] is definitely an attraction,” said Paul Bernier, the longtime derby chairman.
And although some of the lakes predictably produce certain winning species, there are always surprises afoot. Like last year, when most salmon anglers (as always) focused their energy on Long Lake, which is known for producing a few huge salmon each year.
“And the winning salmon, believe it or not, came out of Eagle last year,” Bernier said. “I almost fell on my back [in surprise].”
Substantial cash prizes are up for grabs, with $17,000 in cash to be spread among winners.
A partial breakdown: The salmon and togue categories will award $1,500 for first place, $1,000 for second and $500 for third, while the brook trout and muskie classes will pay out at $1,000 for first, $750 for second and $500 for third. Special youth prizes are also up for grabs, as are cash prizes for perch and cusk.
Fishing will take place Saturday and Sunday, but this year the event kicks off a day earlier, with a special event at a new venue.
“This year we’re doing something different,” Bernier said. “Friday night we’re having an opening ceremony at the Lakeview Restaurant [in St. Agatha], just to try to spread the wealth a little bit.”
The opening ceremony will feature a band, and those who attend will be in the running for more than $1,000 worth of door prizes. That ceremony will run from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m.
On the weekend, the focus turns to the Sporting Club in Sinclair, which will serve as derby headquarters. One highlight of the weekend: One participant will take home a brand new Sport Shack ice fishing shack with a value of about $4,000.
A local man, Reno Voisine of Frenchville, detailed the interior of the shack with cedar from his cedar mill, and insulated it, turning the shack into a prize coveted by many. Bernier said derby organizers first bought a shack to use as a prize last year, and it was a hit.
“We went out and bought two of those Sport Shack ice shacks [this year]. Different colors,” he said. “The one for next year is already [purchased].”
In addition, an ultimate ice fishing package worth about $3,000 is also being given away to a lucky participant.
For more information, go to http://www.stagatha.com/derby.html
John Holyoke can be reached at email@example.com or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke