One of the state’s most popular ice fishing derbies will return for its 16th edition this weekend and the event director is urging a bit of extra caution on some waters as an expected large crowd shakes off COVID-related boredom and heads outside to participate.
Event director Paul Bernier said two of the 10 waters that the Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby is contested on have been slow to freeze up and merit extra caution from anglers. The derby is set for Saturday, Jan. 30, and Sunday, Jan. 31.
“The two most sketchy bodies right now are the St. John River and Glazier [Lake]. We’re putting the word out on our Facebook page: You need to be familiar with these two water bodies [if you’re going to fish them],” Bernier said. “Glazier, at best, has four inches of ice in some places, three inches toward the lower end. And the river, there might be some deadwaters on the shores that will be solid enough, but the river is not good at all.”
Ice conditions on Long Lake itself are much better, according to Bernier.
“We’ve got [ice fishing] cabins going up in front of the [Long Lake] Sporting Club, they started last week,” Bernier said. “There’s anywhere from six to eight inches now, going all the way out into Van Buren Cove. Going into Sinclair, that’s all good [ice]. And then doubling back into St. Agatha, it has improved an awful lot.”
With that said, Bernier urged anglers to keep pickup trucks off the lakes for now.
“I certainly wouldn’t recommend any vehicles out there, but snowmobiles are everywhere right now,” he said.
While the derby is named after Long Lake, where it was first held, the event has grown and is now staged across 10 waters in northern Maine and Canada: Long, Cross, St. Froid, Square, Eagle, Glazier, Beau and Portage lakes, Carr Pond and the St. John River.
Organizers are expecting a big crowd for the derby.
“We’re getting emails and comments on our Facebook page. They’re non-stop. I’ve never seen this much activity,” Bernier said.
And why are people excited about the event?
“That big word: COVID. They can legally do this. It’s an outdoor activity. That’s got to have something to do with it,” Bernier said. “If the results come in like we’re hearing, we’re going to have a record year. I never would have thought, but people are just letting loose. They want to get the hell out of town and just enjoy themselves.”
Bernier said a few changes have been made because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those: There will be no opening ceremony this year, and the awards banquet will be held virtually on Monday, rather than in person on Sunday evening.
The existing record for participation: 1,659 people took part in last year’s derby. Over its 15-year run, the derby has raised $84,000 for the Edgar J. Paradis Cancer Fund, and Bernier hopes to crack the $100,000 mark this year.
The prize-winning fish at the Long Lake derby are often large, and Long Lake in particular has a reputation as one of the state’s top landlocked salmon waters. Each of the lakes has plenty of big fish of a variety of species, and can draw anglers that like to focus on catching a certain kind of fish.
Entry fees in the derby: Anglers age 14 and older can participate for $15 per day or $25 for the weekend, while those 13 and younger pay $5 per day.
Attendance at the event has spiked in recent years, and last year’s addition of two valuable raffle prizes was a key to setting the record, Bernier said. This year a Ski-Doo Expedition snowmobile and a Sport Shack ice shack will be up for grabs, as will $20,000 in cash prizes for those who catch the biggest fish.