After mild weather in December and early January left ice anglers on dry land, a week of frigid weather has socked in many of the state’s lakes and ponds, and organizers of upcoming fishing derbies have exhaled a collective sigh of relief.
The derbies, it appears, will go on.
“I certainly feel a lot more confident now than I did two or three weeks ago,” Greg Hawes, who organizes the G&M Family Market Hancock County Ice Fishing Derby, said.
The derby is set for Jan. 30 and 31, with the weigh station at G&M Family Market in Holden. Anglers are allowed to fish any legal waters in Hancock County, and Hawes said he spoke with state fisheries biologist Greg Burr about ice conditions Thursday morning.
“The last time they went out was last weekend, and they’re seeing that any small lakes and ponds — under 200 acres — have 4 to 8 inches of ice,” Hawes said. “The bigger lakes have thinner ice in the middle, with slush. But that was last weekend, and all week long we’ve had some bitterly cold nights. He feels fairly confident that by next weekend, you’ll be able to go pretty much wherever you want to go.”
Some of the area’s most popular cold-water fisheries are just off Route 1A, headed east from the store. Among those are Phillips Lake, Green Lake and Beech Hill Pond. The weigh station will be open from 3 to 4 p.m. on both days of the derby.
One addition to this year’s event: Hawes said the angler who registers the first fish from each category — salmon, togue, white perch, brook trout, pickerel, bass, splake or brown trout — each day will get to spin the “wheel of prizes.”
Up in the St. John Valley, Paul Bernier, chairman of the Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby, is battling the rumor mill and said those who are telling others the derby will have to be delayed are wrong.
The derby is on, Bernier said, and will be held Jan. 30 to 31 as originally planned. Some new waters have been added for this year’s event, and anglers will be allowed to fish on Long, Cross, Square, Eagle, St. Froid, Portage, Beau and Glazier lakes, Carr Pond and the St. John River.
“With the expanded amount of water bodies in this year’s derby, we can’t be everywhere all the time,” Bernier said in a news release. “But we want people to use good judgment and be safe.”
In an email, Bernier reported he’s confident that many of the waters will be covered with safe ice by derby weekend.
“My cabin has been out on Long Lake for 2½ weeks now,” Bernier wrote. “I am sure that there is an average of 8 to 12 inches everywhere. Some places might have a little less, but overall it is safe.”
There are some water bodies that deserve extra caution from anglers, though.
“I am quite worried about Glazier Lake and the St. John River,” Bernier wrote. “Glazier is basically a [river], and word is the thickness varies quite a bit. The St. John still has open water in many areas from the confluence of the St. Francis [River] all the way down to Hamlin.”
Up on Moosehead, derby organizers are moving forward with plans to stage the ninth annual Moosehead Lake Togue Derby with Rick Craven as planned, Jan. 29-31.
They’re hedging their bet, however, and will extend the derby, offering a second weekend of fishing in February in case people aren’t comfortable with the amount of ice they find in January.
“It is uncertain what the ice conditions will be for the derby … and we do not want anyone to get hurt because they are fishing in the derby,” the Natural Resources Education Center said in a news release issued last week.
The second weekend of the derby will be held Feb. 19-21, and many derby-affiliated events, including the banquet, silent auction and door prize drawings, will be held that weekend.
“Many areas may not be safe, and we urge you to be cautious and check ice conditions before venturing out onto the lake,” the NREC said. “If the ice is not safe, please stay off and come back in February. Your ticket is still good.”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke.