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A record 870 anglers flocked to Maine’s largest lake over the weekend for the 13th annual Moosehead Lake Togue Derby with Ricky Craven, and an angler took home the first prize of $1,500 for a fish that weighed 16.4 pounds.
Tim Obrey, regional fisheries supervisor for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said a 9.8-pound togue was registered on Friday night, and most years, that fish would have earned the angler some prize money. By the end of Saturday’s fishing, however, the leader board was full of fish that topped the 10-pound mark.
“James Grover from Newcastle caught a lunker weighing in at just a touch under 16.5 pounds. Just like last year’s winner, this fish was caught while jigging,” Obrey said. “It must have quite a fight.”
Anglers typically jig by twitching a lure or bait with a small fishing rod, while many other ice anglers rely on tip-ups or “traps” that sit over a hole in the ice, with a flag flipping up to signal that a fish has taken the bait.
Roddy McLellan of Merrill took second place and $500 for his 13.8-pound togue, while Ethan Santos from Dexter finished third and won $250 for an 11.4-pounder.
Obrey said that for the second year in a row, the three biggest togue in the derby weighed more than 10 pounds apiece.
The derby was originally organized in 2008 in order to address the overabundant population of lake trout, or “togue,” in Moosehead Lake. During the first three years of the derby, more than 80,000 small togue were removed from the lake so that there would be less pressure on forage fish, like smelts.
“There is no way we could have turned things around without the anglers, Obrey said. “We needed to seriously thin the togue population in 2008. We didn’t really know the exact number that we had to remove, but we knew it was greater than the number coming out under the old regulations. The only way to remove that more fish was through more angler harvest.”
Obrey said that during the early 2000s, the DIF&W estimated the fishing pressure on Moosehead at 10,000 to 13,000 angler-days per winter. During the first two years of the derby, that increased to about 19,000 angler-days per year.
“Angler use is higher now and roughly 20-30 percent of the winter use comes from the derby weekend,” he said. “It’s very encouraging to talk to folks coming into the weigh station. The fishing is good, they are having fun at the derby, and they understand what has happened up here with fish management. We are very grateful for their participation.”
Some winners of top door prizes in this year’s events: Chad Frazier of Deer Isle took home a check for $1,500, Darren Hafenecker won a Savage .270 rifle, and Johanna Libby of Hampden won a Remington 870 shotgun. Sophie Martin of Hartland took home the top youth door prize, a lifetime Maine fishing license.