The elimination of the statewide derby from the Sebago Lake Derby’s schedule of festivities may mean the annual winter festival could lose some luster. But if Old Man Winter delivers rock-solid ice, nothing will dampen the state’s ice fishing spirit.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s not just those two days, they’re out there the week before, getting rigged up,” said Barbara Cutting, whose family owns Jordan’s Store, which will be one of the derby weigh stations.

“Two years ago, you just can’t imagine how they got into the togue. The local people are intense, but the fishermen come from all over.”

This year the Sebago Lake Rotary Club’s statewide derby that traditionally follows the two-day Sebago Lake Derby was canceled and will be replaced with a Cumberland County-wide derby.

The Sebago Lake Rotary Club decided to take a break from the statewide event when the event director, Tom Noonan, stepped down due to back surgery.

Last year the Sebago Lake ice fishing derby, which has drawn as many as 3,000 to 6,000 fishermen, was canceled for the third time in 11 years due to a lack of ice, but the statewide derby was still held a week later.

This year the Sebago derby is scheduled for Feb. 16-17 and will continue as it always has, with the accompanying polar ice dip and snowmobile radar run.

As always, the derby serves as a fund-raising event for local charities.

And as in the past two years, $100,000 is promised to anyone who breaks the 55-year-old record for the largest togue, which is 31.8 pounds.

“On a good year, the club makes $30,000 to $40,000 for charities. And the events like the polar ice dip make as much as $115,000. It’s a great event. Our aim is to run a great ice fishing derby,” said the derby co-chair, Ingo Hartig.

Hartig said the Cumberland County-wide Derby will replace the statewide for one year, helping to feed Maine’s ice-fishing derby craving.

Lakes and ponds located in Cumberland County are included in the derby, even if they are accessed from the shores of neighboring counties.

“Quite frankly, we don’t have the manpower in our club, which is down to 18 active members, to try to manage all the weigh stations around the state. It would take a larger group of volunteers,” said the derby co-director, Steve McFarland of the Windham Rotary Club.

The loss of the statewide derby may disappoint ice fishermen in remote parts of the state that savor the winter competition. But around Sebago Lake, enthusiasts said it won’t make a difference if the big lake freezes over.

“I would say the season has started. They’re not fishing for the big game fish yet, but they’re fishing the small ponds for pickerel. It might be the first week of February now (for Sebago to freeze). It was awesome when it froze before February two years ago. It was unbelievable. We’re hoping for good ice fishing and a good derby,” Cutting said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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