FORT KENT, Maine — Sean Cabaniss is the latest member of his family to reel in the winning muskie in the annual Fort Kent International Muskie Derby, with a 46-inch fish weighing 22.31 pounds.
Cabaniss, 25, caught the tournament winner on the St. John River in the Madawaska area of northern Maine while fishing with his parents on a Scott Canoe on Friday — the first day of the three-day derby. Winners were announced Sunday evening.
“You know when you have one,” Cabaniss said. “I set the hook really good. It was a great fight.”
Cabaniss, who lives in Pittsfield and is head cross-country and track-and-field coach at University of Maine at Farmington, has entered the derby with his parents, Debbie and Chuck Cabaniss of Vassalboro, for the past eight years.
Debbie Cabaniss won in 2015 with a muskie measuring 44 ⅜ inches long, and Chuck Cabaniss won in 2017 with a muskie measuring 45 ⅞ inches.
“It feels great; it feels like completing the trifecta,” Sean Cabaniss said of being the third member of his family to triumph in the derby.
“For me, it was a mission accomplished,” Chuck Cabaniss, a registered Maine guide, said of his son’s victory. “It was one of those priceless moments.”
Sean Cabaniss shared the family’s plans for the $2,000 winning muskie.
“We’ll eat it; nothing goes to waste,” he said.
Derby waters included the St. John River west of Grand Falls, all of its tributaries and the lakes on those tributaries.
Tucker O’Brien, 13, fishing farther upstream on the St. John, reeled in a $500 prize winning muskie in the youth division.
O’Brien said it took him about five minutes to wrangle in his 39 ¾-inch fish.
“I felt it pulling; I was so excited,” he said. “It stayed deep.”
Sam Lausier, 15, of Madawaska captured the winning bass of the tournament at 21 inches and 4.71 pounds, also for a $500 prize.
Nearly 250 anglers registered for the 2020 derby, down from 330 last year, according to event organizer Dennis Cyr. Cyr said the derby — in its 19th year — lost many Canadian registrants because of the U.S.-Canada border has been closed to nonessential traffic during the coronavirus pandemic.
Though the number of registrants was down, businesses noticed a positive impact during the week of the tournament, according to Cyr.
“It provides a summertime economic boost, which was the original intent of the derby when it started,” Cyr said.
Most annual outdoor summer events in northern Maine have been canceled this summer due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Cyr said that before the derby began he was hesitant to reach out to sponsors because businesses have been hit hard economically by the virus.
But he said that more than 40 sponsors came forward to support the event, especially S.W. Collins, which provided funding and also the location for the derby headquarters at the parking lot of its Up North Outdoors business in Fort Kent. Sponsorships were on par with other years, he said.
The state record muskellunge — or muskie — was 48 inches long and weighed 33 pounds. It was caught by Onezime Dufour of Madawaska on May 15, 2010.