February 16

Maine’s Sebago Lake derby gets back on track

The ice fishing contest draws a crowd for the first time in three years.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

RAYMOND — For the first time in three years, the Sebago Lake Region Ice Fishing Derby was back Saturday. While the crowd was down from what it’s been in other years over the derby’s 14-year history, fishermen and organizers alike said it showed staying power.

click image to enlarge

Paul St. Clair from Auburn jigs for togue as a veteran angler at the Sebago Lake Region Ice Fishing Derby on Saturday.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Ryan Weare, 14, from Cape Elizabeth displays his catch of a 3.28-pound togue, which put him in second place early in the derby. Weare was one of many fishermen who were new to the derby Saturday.

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Some locals expressed disappointment, however.

A dozen fishermen off Raymond Beach were new to the derby. The newcomers – from as far away as Portsmouth and Manchester, N.H., as well as Burnham and Bangor – said they had wanted to fish it for years.

The derby, canceled because of poor ice conditions three times in the past four years, still is far from what it was in 2005, when organizers say as many as 2,000 ice fishermen took to the 28,700-acre lake.

This year, 1,000 registered for the two-day derby despite a snowstorm that hit Saturday, according to the Sebago Lake Rotary Club, which runs the derby.

But organizers think the derby will re-establish itself since a second lake was added this year. Kezar Lake in Lovell is now part of the derby, as well, and at just 2,500 acres, it’s a sure bet to host a derby even during a mild winter.

“I’m ecstatic. We went over 1,000 entries last night and that was my goal,” said derby director Toby Pennels. “And there’s great ice on most of Sebago. Most of the fishermen are spread out over the ice. They’re looking for the big one.”

Dubbed “Maine’s richest derby,” the two-day contest offers $22,500 in prizes and cash awards. The biggest togue, the species the derby was founded around, will win one fisherman an all-terrain vehicle valued at more than $6,000. And a state-record catch would fetch one very lucky fisherman $100,000.

The 56-year-old state record for lake trout is 31 pounds, 8 ounces. It was set by Hollis Grindle of Ellsworth in 1958 at Beech Hill Pond.

On Saturday, Ryan Weare, 14, of Cape Elizabeth wanted to be in the running to place for cash of any amount; and didn’t think his 3.28-pound togue would bring top billing. He entered the second fish he caught, anyway.

Weare was one of many who were new to the derby. Some didn’t even know about the prizes. But with a 35-degree day, conditions were perfect for ice fishing.

“I didn’t even know what a togue was before I got here,” said Bill Russell of Billerica, Mass., who brought his young son to fish.

All around Russell, other Sebago derby newbies were excited to be in a big-money derby, even if they didn’t think they would win big money.

Brad Meade of Portsmouth, N.H., was there for the first time.

Meade was awestruck by the grandeur of Sebago Lake and impressed by the number of fishermen on the lake.

“This is beautiful. And a pretty good-sized crowd,” he said as he put live bait on his line.

Still, some were disappointed with the turnout, saying it paled in comparison to past years.

David and Merissa Lind of Raymond fish the derby every year it is held. They say it’s had so many false starts in recent years, it will take many good years to build it back.

“We live right on the lake. I come out to plow (makeshift roads) for the derby, to volunteer,” David Lind said as he waited for his wife to arrive in her ATV.

“There are not very many people here. I was expecting 2,500. I was expecting it would be like it used to be. But it has to re-establish itself.”

Several years ago, when the ice was thick and the entire lake iced over, one couldn’t walk a half-mile off Raymond Beach without passing dozens of groups and parties of fishermen. Not so this year.

(Continued on page 2)

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