Four times in 12 years: That’s the number of times the Sebago Ice Fishing Derby has been canceled.
Once in the last four years: That’s the number of times it’s been held to completion.
And the “state’s biggest and richest derby,” as its website boasts, is run by a corps of volunteers that has dwindled from 50 to 20. That’s a lot of decreasing numbers.
So the question is, what’s the future for the Sebago Ice Fishing Derby?
“We’re a group of volunteers. Really the whole reason we do it is to raise money for charities, but we’re at the point we’re starting to wonder if we should look for something else. The numbers in the local Rotary are not what they were 10 years ago. It’s tough,” said Steve McFarland, the president of the Windham Rotary Club and the derby director.
Last Wednesday, after discussions with the Maine Warden Service, the Sebago derby organizers decided to cancel the event this year due to a lack of ice on the lake.
The safety risks were evident in the fact the Big Lake has almost no ice; there were pressure ridges along Jordan Bay, and there was open water in several areas on the bay.
In 2010, dozens of people went through the ice during the derby, causing it to end early.
To its credit, the Rotary always has a plan. After rolling out the additional statewide derby several years ago with good success, they came up with a more manageable plan for their shrinking staff this year, but one based on the same big-coverage-area concept as the statewide derby: They will hold a countywide derby.
This year for the first time, the Cumberland County Derby will be held in place of the statewide derby. So when the Sebago Derby (which is a separate derby with separate prizes) was canceled last week, there already was a derby scheduled to raise money for local charities. And the Rotary volunteers are committed to making it worth a day on the ice.
“We know the disappointment this causes for many anglers, but all that disappointment will go away when they win almost $20,000 in prizes in the Cumberland County Derby,” McFarland promises on the derby website.
But the reality is the lack of ice in southern Maine may make the Sebago Derby a thing of the past.
Right now 300 are registered in the derby, down from the typical 1,200 to 2,000.
“We’ll assess it at the end of this year,” McFarland said. “Once we pulled the plug, we haven’t had requests for refunds. But what we’re hearing is other people decided not to register as a result. It’s just the lure of Sebago Lake.”
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: