Layla Pickering wasn’t really fishing for white perch on Sunday, as she spent the day with family members on Branch Lake during the G&M Family Market Hancock County Ice Fishing Derby.
“I was fishing for anything, pretty much,” the Blue Hill 15-year-old said.
She figured she had a better chance of catching a lake trout — also called a “togue” — because of the way the ice fishing trap had been set up.
“We had the trap setup for a togue hole, [with the bait] right on the bottom,” Pickering said. “We wouldn’t think that white perch would be that low, but [the fish] was so big, it was down there, apparently.”
At about 9 a.m. on Saturday, Pickering hauled a monster white perch out of that hole. The fish weighed 2.65 pounds and was 16 inches long. Though it wasn’t a state-record-setter, the fish ended up winning the white perch category in the derby, and earned Pickering $50 for her efforts.
Gregory Burr, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlfe’s regional fisheries supervisor for the Grand Lake Region, said Pickering’s fish was an impressive specimen.
“[This] is the biggest white perch I have ever seen in my 38-year career,” Burr said. “It is certainly noteworthy as a fish like this is very rare. The average white perch in this region is around 9 to 10 inches.”
According to The Maine Sportsman, which maintains the list of state record fish, Jeffrey Curtis of Unity holds the white perch record with a 3.48-pound fish he caught Jan. 23, 2016.
Pickering said that as she pulled the perch to the surface, she was pretty sure she had a small fish on the end of her line.
“Actually it’s very funny because I was pulling it in, and I like to not get my hopes up and everything, so I was like ‘I don’t really feel anything, there’s not that big of a tug,’” Pickering said.
Her father, Thomas Pickering, told her that didn’t seem right, since a togue — the fish he thought she ought to be catching — would have put up a substantial fight. So, too, would a landlocked salmon, which was another possibility.
“But I barely felt anything until it got to the hole. And then, right when I pulled it out, it spit the hook [out] right when it got to the hole,” she said. “My dad put his hands right in the water and scooped it out.”
Pickering wasn’t the only family member to have caught a big perch that day. After she hauled in her derby-winner, her 12-year-old cousin, Connor Pickering, ended up catching four hefty perch himself.
And each time, Layla got a bit nervous.
“Every single time he pulled one up, I was happy for him, but I was like, ‘Please, don’t be bigger than mine.’”
She didn’t need to worry, but Connor did take second place with his biggest perch, a 2.30-pounder. A family fish feed is in the works, Layla said.
Layla Pickering said she enjoys ice fishing and other outdoor activities — she’s a hunter — and spends a lot of time on the ice with family members participating in derbies and fishing for fun during the winter.
“My school is all into hunting and fishing, and my parents have been hunters and fishermen,” she said. “So I think it’s just kind of what we’re all used to.”
And while some of those fishing trips can get pretty cold, there’s one thing that is guaranteed to make the trip worthwhile.
“The flags,” she said, referring to the flags on a fishing trap that signal a fish has taken the bait. “Sometimes there’s like flag after flag after flag and it’s just awesome.”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214.