Anglers never really need an extra excuse to go fishing, but today, I’ve got a couple of added incentives, just in case. If you pick the right ice fishing derby over the next couple of weeks, you might be able to help biologists manage overabundant fish. Or, you may decide to help out U.S. military veterans. Or, if you’re really lucky, you could win thousands of dollars or some great merchandise, just for showing up.
Intrigued? Of course you are. Grab some friends and some food, and let’s go fishing.
First up, let’s head to the crown of Maine for the 15th annual Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby on Jan. 25-26. The derby will actually be contested on a number of local waters, but hundreds of eager anglers will surely flock to Long Lake, in St. Agatha, Madawaska and Sinclair.
And I don’t blame them.
I caught the largest landlocked salmon of my life on Long Lake years ago, and I know plenty of others can say the same thing. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Maine lake where you’d have a better chance (or any chance at all, for that matter) of hauling in a six- or seven-pound salmon.
On Long Lake, that can happen.
The landlocked salmon in Long Lake eat well, and get fatter than fish you’ll find on neighboring lakes. Locals often call those big-bellied salmon “Long Lake footballs” because of their peculiar shape.
Another big draw: Anglers will be competing for a share of $18,500 in cash, and some pretty impressive prizes. The anglers who catch the biggest landlocked salmon and lake trout will take home $1,500 apiece. A $3,000 ice fishing package and a $4,500 Sport Shack ice fishing shanty are also up for grabs.
The derby benefits the Edgar J. Paradis Cancer Fund, and organizers have donated $72,000 toward that cause over the event’s first 14 years.
Waters that are included in the derby are Long, Square, Cross, Eagle, St. Froid, Beau, Glazier and Portage lakes, Carr Pond, and the St. John River.
Over on the state’s largest lake, organizers are gearing up for another venerable event, the 13th annual Moosehead Lake Togue Derby, which will be staged Jan. 24-26.
The event started out as an effort to rid the lake of overabundant lake trout, also called togue. Over the first three years of the derby, a new regulation was instituted, and there was no daily bag limit on togue under 18 inches long. More than 80,000 of those smaller togue were removed over those three years, and more forage was available to allow other fish to grow.
Tim Obrey, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s fisheries resource supervisor for the Moosehead Region, said biologists are still using the derby to help manage the fisheries in Moosehead.
“We have seen some signs that the numbers of small togue are creeping up again, so we are encouraging anglers to take some smaller fish home,” Obrey said. “ It really helps, not only the togue, but the salmon and brook trout as well.”
Current law on Moosehead allows an angler to keep five togue a day, with a minimum length of 14 inches. Only one togue over 18 inches can be kept per day.
The Moosehead derby is organized by the Natural Resource Education Center. This year’s biggest togue will net the winning angler $1,500, and door prizes include a .270 Savage rifle, a 12 gauge shotgun, and $1,500 in cash.
One word of caution: Moosehead is a massive lake, and conditions may vary from place to place. Anglers should stick to spots they know well, or check the ice regularly.
“Anglers have been travelling around the southern part of the lake, south of Sugar and Deer islands,” Obrey said. “Rockwood is always the last area to freeze, but I heard they were marking the snowmobile trails across the lake this week, which is a good sign. The cold weather this week and next should make for good traveling. We always encourage anglers to use caution if they are unsure of the ice conditions.”
Finally, if you’re looking for a different kind of fishing event, you may want to consider the 10th annual House in the Woods Ice Fishing Derby, which will be held Jan. 25 at the Great Pond Adventure Center in Aurora.
House in the Woods Military and Family Retreat is a nonprofit organization that takes active military personnel and veterans on free outdoor retreats.
The angler who catches the biggest brown trout will win a Jiffy propane ice auger, the top smallmouth bass will be worth a Wolf muzzleloader, and the largest pickerel will win an angler a Loring pack basket with five Heritage ice fishing traps.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, has been published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.