SEBAGO – The town of Sebago is featured in the May issue of Outdoor Life magazine as No. 29 on a list of the 35 “Best Towns for Sportsmen” – a distinction locals say misses the mark by about 28 spots.

“What do they know about it?” said Carroll Cutting, owner of Jordan’s Store in Sebago, referring to the editors who created the list. “We know it’s the best!”

Francis Brautigam, fisheries biologist for Maine Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, says the secret’s long been out on Sebago.

“It really isn’t a big surprise, given that Sebago has been a worldwide destination for fishing and certainly landlocked Atlantic salmon since the early 1900s and maybe before that,” Brautigam said.

According to Amanda McNally, spokeswoman for Outdoor Life, the list was compiled by the magazine’s contributing editors. The listing, which puts Appleton, Wis., at the top, appears in the May issue, on newsstands now and on the magazine’s website.

“This is the fifth annual year Outdoor Life has released the ‘Best towns for Sportsmen,’” McNally said. “In years past we considered a variety of socio-economic data when putting the list together, but this year we decided to focus on what matters most: hunting and fishing. The 35 towns on the list this year are places where our editors would live right now, based solely on the outdoor opportunities there.”

The mention of Sebago in a national magazine is seen as a boon to the local tourism economy, which has struggled with the recession and high gas prices.

“Anything that boosts the reputation of this region is good news,” said Sue Bonior, with the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.

Fishermen agree that Sebago is a prime spot offering good chances to catch landlocked salmon and lake trout, also known as togue. But most also say it could be better. The salmon, which became landlocked when the lake’s sole outlet, the Presumpscot River, was dammed a few hundred years ago, have to fight against lake trout for smelt. Through the years, the salmon have dwindled in size and number, prompting events such as the Sebago Lake Ice Fishing Derby to help cut into the togue population. However, while salmon is the preferred species, Brautigam said, some fishermen enjoy lake trout and come to Sebago to catch the large fish.

“It’s really the salmon fishery that drives a lot of the use that we see on Sebago Lake,” he said. “Years when the salmon are growing well and they’re of good-sized quality, we tend to see more angler participation. That’s not to say the lake trout aren’t an attraction in and of themselves, because they’re incredibly abundant and have quite a following and have gained at least a regional awareness of the great fishing that’s available in Sebago, really year-round for lake trout.”

Ted Davis, 73, who lives in the home his grandfather built in 1914 on the shore of Sebago Lake in North Sebago, says Sebago still has a dynamic fishery, but nothing like it could be if salmon, known for excellent taste and for putting up a good fight, was still king.

“Sebago used to be No. 1. It should be No. 1. We used to catch 10-pound salmon. Now 3 pounds is a big one,” Davis said while enjoying nice weather and calm conditions out on Big Bay last Friday. “But it is a great place to fish, just because it’s a wonderful lake. It’s clean water. It’s deep, which makes it cold, and that makes for good fishing.”

Sebago also has vast acres of woods where hunters can target bear, moose, deer and smaller game. While the hunting season is limited, fishing is popular year-round with ice fishing in the winter. The town’s main marina, Sebago Lake Marina, sees action from local residents such as Davis, as well as tourists and summer residents. The recent distinction as one of the country’s top sporting destinations only solidifies what sportsmen already know, marina owner Charles Frechette said.

“They come for the landlocked salmon. When the salmon fishery is good out here, the local economy is good. The lake trout has always been a steady fishery but they’re not as popular a type of fishery,” Frechette said. “We’ve caught 106 lake trout so far this year, but you have to know how to prepare it and I’ve got a good recipe.”

David Garcia, president of Sebago Lake Anglers Association and owner of the Naples Bait & Tackle for the last 32 years, credits the presence of a unique species of landlocked salmon, convenient public access and water quality for the distinction.

“One of the premier reasons why people come to Sebago Lake is to catch the landlocked salmon, which are a pure strain of salmon, one of only three major strains of landlocked salmon in Maine,” he said. “That and the water purity is just incredible. You can look down 15-20 feet most times. Plus, we have one of the best state parks in the southern half of the state, which offers day facilities, camping and boat ramps, so accessibility is key.”

Sebago resident Ted Davis, who grew up fishing on Sebago Lake and hunting in the area, gets ready to fish on Big Bay last Friday afternoon. Like most fishermen, Davis’ favored species is the landlocked Atlantic salmon, which he says isn’t as strong as it was in his youth when 10-pounders were common. But, he says, fishing on the lake is still exceptional. Magazine editors at Outdoor Life obviously agree and this month named Sebago a top fishing destination in America.   
Andy Iverson of Sebago fishes from a boat in Sebago Lake last Friday. Anglers on Sebago Lake tend to fish off shore and employ downriggers, which allow for trawling of fish that tend to stick close to the bottom, such as lake trout. 

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