What was once a few holes poked in Long Lake now has blossomed into the state’s largest grossing fishing derby. At this year’s 15th Annual Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby, anglers had a chance to leave with $50 thousand-worth of prizes and as many fish as they could net.
Though home base for the derby was on Long Lake in St. Agatha, fisher-men-and-women were scattered across 10 of Aroostook County’s northern waterways. From the Canada-bordering St. John River to Cross Lake, lines were prepped, tackled and set with hopes of reeling in the big one.
Over 1,600 men, women and children tried their luck competing for a top-three fish in any of the derby’s 10 different categories. And those were only the people registered. Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby Committee member Don Raymond shares how the demographics on the lake have changed over the years. “This year, as much if not more than any year, the derby is really a family event. A good portion, probably as much as half of our participants, are young people out here just having fun.”
Families and friends filled every cove of Long Lake to fish, grill, snowmobile and party out on the ice. When the fish weren’t biting, snowball fights and sled races passed the time. While local anglers didn’t have far to commute for the derby, others traveled from Florida, Massachusetts and southern Maine to try their hand at rippin’ lips.
Like the group of six men, all residing in central Maine, who won the “booby-prize” for most perch caught. By pooling their time and fish, the crew amassed over one thousand of the nuisance fish over the derby’s span. Though the weekend may have set them back a couple of thousand dollars in travel and other expenses, the men admitted they’d be back again next year. “We come to fish specifically for the perch division and we look forward to it every year. It’s worth every penny.”
Richard Chandler, co-owner of Caribou-based Channel X Radio, has been at every derby since it began in 2005. When asked about this year’s derby compared to years past, Chandler shared a heart-warming observation on what an event like this means for a small town such as St. Agatha. “It was unlike any derby I’ve seen. The restaurants were packed. The weather was so nice there were people fishing in T-shirts. I don’t know how many kids were there, too–absolutely everywhere. It was almost hard to find a state of Maine license plate in the Sporting Club and Lakeview parking lots.”
A tradition once reserved for Aroostook’s tough and rugged north is now shared across all ages, genders and regions. Though populations have changed, the same old adage applies: a bad day fishing always beats a good day working.