February in Maine turns into derby time as more ice fishing derbies go off across the state, most serving as benefits to raise money for charities. With this in mind, it’s a good time to hope for frigid weather, colder nights and solid ice.
That’s right, winter-weather naysayers. But hear me out.
One derby this winter will strike a chord with ice fishermen who favor the remote fishing regions, particularly the Grand Lakes Region. The derby taking place there on Feb. 17 will be held on one of Maine’s premier togue fisheries, East Grand Lake, and it will be held for a local man whose life changed forever on a simple drive home from work.
On Nov. 18, 2012, Micah Bartlett’s pickup truck flipped and burst into flames on a road near his home in Orient. The accident left Bartlett with 70 percent of his body burned. After he was airlifted to Eastern Medical Center and taken that night to Massachusetts General Hospital, his left leg was amputated above the knee and his right leg at mid-calf.
Three months later, Bartlett, 46, remains in a burn unit in Boston, skin graphs slowly replacing his damaged skin.
How or why Bartlett’s truck went off the road and exploded remains unknown because he still is unable to speak, said his sister, Heather Douglass. A breathing tube runs down Bartlett’s mouth, keeping him alive.
What is apparent to his family is Bartlett’s will to live.
“He was still in his vehicle when the accident happened. When the first responder found him they didn’t know someone had been in the car. He was found 50 feet from the car, where he dragged himself. He had dislocated his shoulder, he had a broken hip, fractured ribs. There was a lot of trauma. A lot had to line up that night for him to even be here,” said Douglass of Gorham. “He has an incredible will. He’s been fighting the whole way.”
Bartlett will be at Massachusetts General the next few months before he is transferred to a rehab center, where Douglass said he will recover for another several months. The cost of his medical care is unknown, she said, but it will far surpass what Bartlett, a builder, can afford.
This is where the East Grand Lake derby comes in.
The 16,000-acre lake is famous for landlocked salmon and lake trout, and has gone without a derby in recent years.
“It’s probably one of our best lake trout fisheries in the region, if not the state right now,” said regional state fisheries biologist Nels Kramer.
East Grand Lake lies along the New Brunswick border beside the towns of Forest City and Danforth, a good four-hour drive from Portland, but with a togue fishery found in few lakes.
The togue taken out of East Grand, because of a one-togue bag limit, are often in the 10- to 12-pound range and can be much larger, Kramer said.
“There used to be a derby there that started in the 1990s, run by a local snowmobile club. Basically, they ran out of steam. There are a lot of folks looking forward to it,” Kramer said.
An avid outdoorsman, Bartlett loves to hunt, fish and ice fish with his sons, Ethan, 15, and Seth, 12. The derby held in his name will help reconnect him with Maine.
“We wanted (the fundraiser) to be something he’d enjoy doing,” Douglass said.
If the classic cold of February returns, scores of lakes and ponds elsewhere around the state also will be full of ice fishermen, working to catch fish, but also helping to raise money for dozens of charities.
It’s the good in the cold this time of year. And there is a lot of good to be found across Maine’s frozen lakes.
“Ice thickness and derby-weekend weather are major factors. As the ice thickness grows, so do our charitable contributions,” said Steve McFarland, the director of the Sebago Lake Derby, which has drawn as many as 6,000, and gives away as much as $20,000 a year.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: