SEBAGO – After more weeks of consistently low temperatures and lack of windy weather, Big Bay, the deepest and largest expanse of water on Sebago Lake, has frozen over for the first time in two years.

Sebago Lake’s unofficial “ice in, ice out” record keeper Carroll Cutting, owner of Jordan’s Store in Sebago, said the ice completely capped over the Big Bay last Monday night, Jan. 24.

“Before that it had managed a thin coating but would break up, but it’s stayed in since Tuesday, and fishermen are reporting about 3.5 to 4 inches out there,” Cutting reported Monday from his store overlooking the shore of Big Bay.

Cutting is quick to urge caution, though, as the Big Bay is notorious for unpredictability.

“We’re not telling people it’s safe to fish, but there have been guys out there fishing,” Cutting said. “It’s their call I guess.”

The development of ice, which was about 4 inches thick earlier this week in Big Bay and about 15 inches thick in Jordan Bay before a massive snowstorm plowed through the area on Wednesday, is a good sign not only for ice fishermen but for those wishing to win something for their angling skills at the Sebago Lake Rotary Derby Fest in late February.

A Sebago Lake completely covered with thick, solid ice would be a welcome sign after last year’s event was cancelled when rapidly deteriorating ice on the first day of the derby led to vehicles and people falling through ice in Jordan Bay. A local man died trying to retrieve his sunken ATV a few days after the event.

This year’s derby occurs Feb. 25 and 26 and event organizer Tom Noonan is hopeful the weather patterns will remain cold enough to add to the ice’s thickness over the next three weeks.

“It’s the ice, always the ice,” that drives how many folks register for the derby, all proceeds from which go to charities like the Maine Children’s Cancer program and Camp Sunshine, Noonan said.

Noonan, who along with fellow Rotarians is hosting the 11th derby, even has a mathematical formula based on the thickness of ice in Jordan Bay, which allows him to accurately predict the number of entrants.

“It’s a special sauce, so we don’t give it out, but I’ll just say it’s amazing. It’s very predictive, within 100 registrants,” he said.

With Big Bay icing over and cold temperatures forecast for the next few weeks, the prospects of other areas of Sebago Lake “setting up” with thick ice by derby weekend is almost a sure bet.

“When the whole thing is iced over, it’s not subject to wind, which can break up the ice,” Noonan said. “If you have open water, you can have wave action. Without that open water, no wave action. So now I say, let the wind blow, because it’ll blow the snow off the ice.”

According to Francis Brautigam, a fisheries biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Sebago Lake ices over on average every two out of three years. He said proper ice coverage is dependent on cold nights and still air, a combination that in recent years hasn’t worked in fishermen’s favor. Noonan said the maximal thickness of Sebago ice historically is Feb. 19, a week before the derby, meaning the ice will likely thicken, especially now that the surface has crusted over, a trend Brautigam says he expects to see continue this year.

“It’s definitely a challenge for ice to set in Big Bay,” Brautigam said. “In recent years, wind has been a problem not allowing the ice to set. But this year, we’ve got some ice out there so the lake can accept some airflow and we don’t anticipate any disruption in the maintaining of ice, especially with cool weather predicted. I think we’ll continue to see the ice develop.”

Brautigam said this week’s snowstorm, which was forecast to dump in excess of a foot of snow on Sebago Lake, could cause temporary problems for the ice.

“The issue is weight,” he said. “The snow is heavy and weighs on the ice that is already there. So you’ll see water come up through and sit on top of the snow. But as it freezes, the ice will actually set up thicker, although the ice isn’t as strong as black ice would be.”

While you need ice to go ice fishing, you need fish to make ice fishing worth the effort, and according to Brautigam, the ice fishing so far this season on Sebago is “excellent,” a fact confirmed by Carroll Cutting’s son, Greg, who went fishing on the lake last week with several fishing buddies and caught 36 lake trout (togue) the first day and 37 the next.

“That’s pretty good in terms of count. We can’t keep them all, but the fishing is definitely good. But we know the lake pretty well. And that’s all jigging, no traps,” Greg Cutting said, adding, “We’re still a little hesitant” to go onto Big Bay.

Footsteps of ice fishermen lead through the Long Beach Marina out onto the ice of Sebago Lake’s Big Bay earlier this week. A few brave souls ventured out onto the ice to catch some early-season ice fishing, but Carroll Cutting at Jordan’s Store in Sebago urges caution, as the ice is only about 4 inches thick. (Staff photo by John Balentine)

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