Changes bolster Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby

By John Holyoke
BDN Staff

Over the course of a winter, plenty of ice anglers head north to Aroostook County’s Long Lake, one of the few waters in Maine where they have a legitimate chance to land an eight-pound landlocked salmon.

Or a nine-pounder.

Or bigger.

Organizers of the Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby understand that, and since the first edition of the event was held, it has become a huge hit with those from the St. John Valley and across the state.

Derby chairman Paul Bernier said organizers are already busy planning for the fifth annual derby, which will be held on Jan. 30 and 31.

The event is sponsored by the town of St. Agatha and the Black Bear Rod & Gun Club.

Among the changes on tap: Even more money will be given out in cash prizes during one of the state’s most well-funded derbies.

“We’re up to $8,000 [for a total purse] this year,” Bernier said on Friday. “Our first derby was a $1,500 purse. Then we jumped to $3,000, then to five, then to six. Now we’re up to eight.”

In the salmon and lake trout divisions, the prize breakdown will be $1,300 for first place, $600 for second and $275 for third. In the brook trout category, the breakdown is $1,000, $600 and $275.

While anglers were limited to Long Lake during the first year of the tourney, organizers swiftly moved to allow fishing on several other nearby waters, including Cross, Square, St. Froid and Eagle lakes.

New this year: A division for fishermen who target muskellunge, which must be caught at Glazier or Beau lakes.

Bernier said that many derby attendees have been lobbying for a muskie category over the past few years.

“The last two, three years, that word, [muskie], has been brought up on numerous occasions, both during the weekend of the derby at the base camp and during our meetings leading up to the derby.”

This year, the largest muskie will earn a lucky angler $500, while second place is worth $300.

Bernier said that organizers don’t want muskies brought to the actual weigh-in station at the Long Lake Sporting Club in Sinclair, however.

“I’ve always been leery of muskie, of having them anywhere near the lake,” Bernier explained.

Muskies have not been reported in Long Lake, and anglers want to keep it that way.

Therefore, all muskellunge will be weighed at John’s Country Store in St. Francis, and those results will be forwarded to the derby headquarters electronically.

Anglers age 13 and younger will pay $5 per day to fish, while those 14 and older can enter for $15 per day or $25 for the weekend.

Football fans will likely notice another big change in the derby this year: For the first time in a few years, it’s not being held on Super Bowl weekend.

This year’s Super Bowl will be held on Feb. 7.

Bernier said he’s excited that the tourney won’t be competing for the attention of anglers who want to get home and make Super Bowl preparations.

“[The date of the Super Bowl] was the first thing I noticed,” Bernier said. “That should have an impact on registrations. That’s the game of the year and will affect turnout.”

Not that the conflict has hurt attendance too much over the years: The derby was held earlier during its first year — 2006 — and 290 anglers registered. In 2007, that number grew to 450; In 2008, 410 anglers showed up; and in 2009, a record 451 participants took part in the event.

Bernier said organizers sent out the first batch of solicitation letters to potential sponsors and have received commitments of $1,800 already. Included in that total is $300 from new sponsors.

“I guess it’s just proof that the project’s getting bigger and the support is there,” Bernier said. “And of course the cause [the Edgar J. Paradis Cancer Fund] is great.

Bernier said after a mild November, winter weather has arrived in northern Aroostook County. In more southern parts of the state, lakes may not freeze for weeks yet. In his neck of the woods, that’s not the case.

“Madawaska Lake is all iced over. Eagle Lake is almost frozen,” Bernier said. “As far as Long Lake, the coves are frozen. And if we hadn’t had the wind that we got today, it’d be close [to frozen over].”

In closing, a quick disclaimer: Close to frozen doesn’t mean close to safe.

It’s up to all of us to make sure we realize that when we go afield, looking for some winter fun.

For more information on the derby, go to www.stagatha.com/derby.asp or call Bernier at 543-6332. You can also send him e-mail at [email protected]