WINDHAM – To entice anglers to register early for the Sebago Lake Rotary Ice Fishing Derby, event organizers have unveiled a new promotion this year: 30 Days of Derby.

According to Sebago Lake Rotary Club member and derby spokesman Steve McFarland, 30 Days of Derby offers registrants a chance to win about $100 worth of prizes and gift certificates each day for the month leading up to the derby, which is scheduled for Feb. 18-19. The earlier someone registers, the more chances they have to win a prize.

Derby organizers realized a few years ago they needed to convince people to register early so they didn’t have a crush of registrations in the few days before derby weekend. Fishermen, however, are loath to invest in the $30 (individual) or $50 (two adults and up to six kids) ticket price if the ice and weather isn’t cooperating on the big weekend. Offering prizes, organizers hope, will do the trick.

“We’re always challenged right up until derby to get people registered. We really never know what’s going to happen,” McFarland said. “So this was an attempt to get people to register early and beef up the prize pool so people will say, well, even if the fishing isn’t great, you know, there are more prizes. So we’re really hoping to get those early registrations.”

By offering 30 prize packages, which range from local restaurant certificates worth $25 to lodging certificates worth much more, McFarland said the derby is also trying to reach out to smaller businesses who may not be able to afford to sponsor the derby in a larger way, as the Kittery Trading Post, Cabela’s or Maine Chevy Dealers have in years past. McFarland said the derby regularly mentions those major sponsors but needed to find a way to involve smaller sponsors, as well.

“A lot of small businesses in Windham and Raymond can’t afford (sizable) contributions, so this was a way they could afford $25, $100 or whatever worth of goods and services they can afford and still be a partner in the derby and be recognized,” he said.

The Shop Local campaign, which is being pushed aggressively by the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, is also playing a part in the 30 Days of Derby campaign, with the Rotary Club suggesting out-of-town fishermen patronize local businesses either during or after derby weekend.

“We’re working really hard to get our fishermen out into the community, get them to spend their dollars and shop local,” McFarland said. “We’re trying to connect it with all those other efforts currently going on and really make sure we’re part of the whole economic development and drive the local economy during a very quiet time of the year.”

The 30 Days of Derby prizes are in addition to the fish pool prizes, which award such items as a snowmobile, boat, power ice auger and substantial gift certificates to folks who land fish during the event. Unlike the fish pool, anyone can qualify for 30 Days of Derby prizes, no fish required.

“So, we’re hoping, even the non-ice fishing people will say, well, I’ll get in for that,” McFarland said. “So, anyone who supports Rotary and the charities we’re supporting, they may even buy a ticket for the sake of getting into the early registration. You don’t even have to go fish.”

Dan Hancock, chairman of the Chamber’s Retail Committee, which is aiming to better promote local businesses and encourage residents to do their shopping locally, is happy to see derby organizers including the smaller-scale companies in the biggest wintertime event in the area.

“The derby has always been a big draw for the area, and there is a tremendous amount of potential for this event to have a significant impact on the local economy during what has traditionally our slowest time of the year,” Hancock said. “I credit the Rotary Club for what they are doing to help local businesses, in addition to the other causes they support. We have discussed several ideas on how the Retail Committee can help with this effort and we look forward to working with them to help make this a reality.”

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