January 19

Deirdre Fleming: Sebago Derby still about the fish

It started as a fish management tool, and it’s stayed one.

The Sebago Lake Rotary Ice Fishing Derby is still about the fish, which means more than weigh stations and flying flags.

After 13 years, it’s about thousands of fishermen catching togue through the ice in February. And it’s about trying to land a state-record lake trout – something exceeding 31.8 pounds. And it’s about bragging rights to win the big-fish title, and get one’s name on the towering, perpetual trophy that this year was dubbed the “Tom Noonan Cup” in honor of the derby’s founder.

And therein lies a hint to the original purpose of Maine’s biggest derby, which continues today. It’s about fish management.

This year, as the Sebago derby adopts a second lake to hold the event alongside the big lake, it’s important to remember this original purpose.

Four-wheelers and a $100,000 insurance policy prize aside, the derby is still about culling togue populations to help Maine’s landlocked salmon.

Sure, this year a National Geographic reality TV show about ice shacks and augers will come out of the two-day event. And momentum will build again around the state-record prize pot.

But regardless what becomes of either, the hundreds of pounds of togue taken from Sebago Lake that also now will be taken out of Kezar Lake, albeit in smaller numbers, will help state fisheries biologists help native salmon.

The second lake was added so that if winter throws a curve ball and leaves Sebago with unsafe ice, Kezar is small enough at 2,510 acres with a maximum depth of 155 feet that a derby likely can be held there.

Sebago, at almost 29,000 acres with a maximum depth of 316 feet, has a harder time.

When the derby organizers considered a second togue lake – because togue fishermen love to fish for these weighty monsters – they went to state biologists to ask where ice fishermen could help, said the derby director, Toby Pennels.

They went back to the original intent of the derby.

So biologists considered where the voracious togue needed to be thinned to help another landlocked salmon water, since salmon do poorly against too much competition from togue.

That water turned out to be Kezar Lake in Lovell, about 30 miles north.

With the addition of the new togue water, Maine fisheries biologist Francis Brautigam said the days of canceling the ice derby might be gone for good. And he said Kezar offers more than a safer togue water to tread upon on a mild winter. It is a salmon water with a togue population that needs clearing out, same as Sebago.

Moreover, the data collected from the togue taken out of Kezar will go toward fish management decisions, just as the togue taken out of Sebago during the derby do.

“The derby organizers get the length and weight (at the weight stations), and we use that data to monitor changes in the lake trout,” Brautigam said. “We don’t have a good tool to get lake trout data, the length and weights. The derby provides that.

“It’s an important piece of our management. If we lost it, we would have to come up with another sampling technique. I view it as a fairly significant aid. It’s a huge benefit.”

So just as it started, the Sebago Derby will continue a means to remove togue where salmon thrive and to study the togue in salmon waters, so that Maine’s prized landlocked salmon can do better.

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: FlemingPph

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