Joohwan Lee (right) an international student from Soul, South Korea, and Orono High School physical education teacher Chad Kirkpatrick set an ice fishing trap in the ice of Perch Pond in Old Town in March 2019. Credit: Gabor Degre

Before long, most of the state’s lakes and ponds will likely be covered by a thick coat of ice, and ice anglers will be out there enjoying some productive fishing. As soon as that happens — and reports are already indicating that some small ponds have begun to see some fishing action — one statewide ice fishing competition will rev up.

Wes Ashe of Brewer has organized Maine’s Ice Fishin’ Derby & Benefit for the past decade, and he and his fellow anglers are ready for the 10th annual edition of the event.

“When the derby began there were just a few of us — all fisheries graduate students at UMaine,” Ashe said.

A year later, after his high school friend Alec Cyr died after a battle with cancer, Ashe decided the fishing derby needed a bigger purpose.

“It really hits home when a high school buddy passes away, so I wanted to honor him and his family and donate half the proceeds to his newborn son’s education fund,” Ashe said. “I had no idea that the derby would still be around a decade later, but it is.”

The derby still serves as a fundraiser for Alec’s son, Chase. Over nine years, the derby has raised “a few thousand dollars” toward Chase’s education, according to Ashe.

The derby has grown from just three anglers during that first year to about 60 last year. The entry fee is low — just $10 — and participants can fish on any legal lake or pond in the state from Dec. 1 until March 31. Another unusual twist: The derby will potentially reward anglers who catch species of fish that most tournaments ignore. Among those: fallfish, smelt and sunfish.

The angler who catches the longest fish of each species is crowned champion, and all of those champs are tossed into a random drawing to decide who gets which prize.

“You can target any and all fish species, and each is weighted evenly in the lottery — a lake trout is no more important than a smallmouth bass, and a northern pike is no more valuable than chain pickerel,” Ashe said.

Last year, 28 different species of fish were caught by participants.

Most derbies focus their attention on a given lake or group of lakes for a day or two, which can result in huge crowds flocking to an area. That doesn’t happen in Maine’s Ice Fishin’ Derby & Benefit.

“It’s not a derby where you’re surrounded by tons of folks and it’s run entirely online, so it might be particularly attractive to introverted folks like myself who just want to fish with a couple friends on more secluded waters,” Ashe said.

Here’s how the derby works: Send a $10 check to Wes Ashe, 54 Clover Lane, Brewer, 04412. Then go fishing on any legal water in Maine. When you catch a fish, email a photo to that shows the fish alongside a tape measure and your 2020 fishing derby entry card.

Among this year’s prizes are gift cards and prize packages donated by Dick’s Sporting Goods, Northeast Troller, Everett Lures, Swan Lake Grocery, Angler’s Restaurant and Rosalie’s Pizza.

The grand prize will likely be a new electric ion auger.

Ashe, who works as a fisheries biologist, spends a lot of time out on frozen lakes during the winter. He said the safety component can’t be overstated.

“In my career, I’m on the ice all the time. I’ve been through just once, but that was enough,” Ashe said. “I now wear a float coat all the time. If you don’t own a float coat, don’t be afraid to wear a life jacket under your gear. I’ve yet to catch one fish that’s worth taking a polar plunge … or worse.”

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...