Angler Rene Lavoie of Lewiston shows off his first lake trout on the first day of the 2020 Sebago Lake Ice Fishing Derby. Tom Roth / For Lakes Region Weekly

The question most often heard at local bait shops, on social media pages and anywhere anglers get together is, “Will Sebago freeze this year?” I’ve received several calls from potential clients from out of state wanting to ice fish Sebago. I just chuckle when I tell them that I’m looking at open water.

Tom Roth is a freelance outdoor writer who lives in Raymond on the shore of Sebago Lake. He has been fishing and hunting in this region for more than 30 years and is a Registered Maine Guide.

As I pen this column on the last day in January, it’s 6 a.m. and the temperature is minus 6 degrees. I got up early and made a pot of coffee and a fire in the fireplace. I feel a bit like old Nathaniel Hawthorne, my former neighbor just down the road, working by firelight as I watch the sun splash Jordan Bay. When enough sun has risen, I can see that the thick rumbling blocks of ice pushed ashore by yesterday’s wind have set up like concrete. This portion of ice extends about 100 feet into the lake. Beyond that, my cove has caught with skim ice, the frailest of all ice, and it has taken hold and extends from point to point across the cove. Now, if we could only maintain these sub-zero temperatures without any wind, we’d be out there soon. But alas, the forecast later this week indicates a warm stretch and we have a big snowstorm coming Tuesday. A blanket of snow in the ice acts to insulate it and slows the formation of safe ice. In any case, I’ll be content to watch and wait and see if we can get some.

Perhaps no one is more interested in the condition of the big lake than the organizers of the Sebago Lake Ice Fishing Derby. Now in its 20th year, the derby brings fun, prizes and fundraising to the region, along with a good influx of revenue for area small businesses. Organized by the Sebago Lake Rotary, with assistance from myriad local businesses, this well-attended event draws hundreds to the region and takes on a carnival-like atmosphere. This year, with COVID-19, things are slated to be tamer, but we are all hoping for ice so the event can go on.

There’s not been a year in my history on the lake that I couldn’t ice fish it. Jordan Bay almost always freezes completely, but many years the big bay doesn’t lock up. Whether it’s global warming or some other trend, a look back in the history books at ice out dates shows warm trends, followed by cold ones, ever since they began keep records of such things in the 1800s.

Last year, Jordan Bay didn’t get good ice until a week before the derby. I sent my drone out to survey the ice, which looked good from shore, only to find many pockets of open water from my aerial vantage. I uploaded the video to YouTube as so many were asking about the conditions (

As I said, I’ve been able to fish the lake every year, sometimes only venturing out from shore a short distance, but with crowds, snowmobiles and ATVs, derby organizers are cautious in allowing the event to take place if the ice is sketchy. The derby has been canceled several times due to ice or lack thereof. The derby was canceled or opened to other water bodies in 2002, 2006, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2016 and 2017. At least if you can’t get on Sebago, you can fish other waters and take part in the derby. In 2010, we enjoyed one day of derby action on Saturday, but game wardens, concerned about melting ice from the warm trend that weekend, put a halt to the derby on Sunday. I recall the ice was nothing but slush by late that Saturday and many had to work to get their gear off the ice.

Even though the event is just shy of three weeks away, it’s still too early to tell what Mother Nature holds in store for the big lake. Hopefully she will lock up tight and keep making ice so the show can go on. If so, you’ll see me out there, jigging away and contributing to a great cause.


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