Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby sees record turnout

3 months ago

ST. AGATHA, Maine — People came out in record numbers over the weekend for the Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby, the largest in the state. 

When registration closed at noon on Sunday, 1,852 people signed up, shattering the derby’s previous record of 1,806 in 2022.

The annual Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby draws anglers from statewide and beyond, bringing an economic boost to the St. John Valley at the end of January.

Derby Chairman Paul Bernier said the nice weather likely played a role in bringing people out.

“The big difference this weekend is the weather,” Bernier said. “You can get the kids out there and everything. It’s not brutal; we’ve seen years where you can’t see your hand in front of you.”

He said the derby’s introduction of online registration may have contributed to the numbers too. There are 29 different locations where people in the area can pick up a physical sign-in sheet, but with digital registration as an option, fewer people are handing in physical forms. More than 1,100 registrations were done via the online platform.

Before this was an option, Bernier said four or five people would have to go through stacks of papers and enter all the registration information alphabetically.

Altogether, Bernier said the derby crew consists of between 20 and 25 people.

And while the temperatures were fairly warm, fluctuating between upper 20s and lower 30s, there was still plenty of ice on the lake. Bernier said on Sunday morning that Long Lake had between 10 to 12 inches of ice.

ST. AGATHA, Maine — January 28, 2024 — Jace Pelletier is pictured here holding a salmon at the 2024 Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby. (Courtesy of the Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby)

And though the event is named after Long Lake, it also includes Cross Lake, St. Froid Lake, Square Lake, Eagle Lake, Glazier Lake, Beau Lake, Portage Lake, Carr Pond, and the St. John River. 

The derby committee pledged $60,000 over the course of five years to the Edgar J. Paradis Cancer Fund, which benefits families of cancer patients who have to travel to see loved ones receiving treatment in distant facilities. They will donate $12,500 this year and again next year to fulfill this commitment.

This year’s purse was also bigger than ever, with a total of $23,500 given out for fish prizes compared to $22,000 last year. Prizes included a 2024 Ski-Doo Expedition 900 Ace snowmobile and a Sport Shack Ice Shack.

Winners in the 13 years old and younger category include Jace Pelletier with a five-pound, 3.7-ounce, 24 ¾-inch salmon, Parker Boisvert with a one-pound, 9.8-ounce, 18-inch brook trout, Haley Gay with a five-pound, 8.4 ounce, 25 ¼-inch togue, and Aiden Mosher with 40 perch caught.

Winners in the 14 years and older category include Robert Collin with a six-pound, seven-ounce, 25-inch salmon, Brandon Cox with a 14-pound, 0.9-ounce, 35-inch togue, Jeff Beardsworth with a three-pound, 15.5-ounce, 20 ¾-inch brook trout, Judson Gerrish with a 29-pound, seven-ounce, 48-inch muskie. Dana Saunders caught 472 perch at Cross Lake, and Fred Libby caught the largest perch, which was one pound, 14.9 ounces, and 14 ½ inches. 

Eric Bourgoin won the top spot for cusk with an 11-pound, 10.3-ounce, and 33 ½-inch catch. The cusk category is for all ages.

Craig Neilander of Bridgewater came out to the derby with his young son Spencer, who as of 11:30 a.m. had the first place spot for most perch caught in the 13 and under category.

“My boy is hooked to it,” Craig said. “He’s won a couple times, and he loves it.”

Neilander said he and his son came up on Friday night and camped out on the lake. Neilander said he has been ice fishing since he was 8 years old, or roughly his son’s age. He said his son started fishing when he was only 4 years old. 

Paul Bernier’s son, Jacob Bernier, and his friends have been helping his father organize the derby for the past six or seven years.

Josh Rogers of Dresden pulled in a 7-pound, 29-inch cusk Sunday on Long Lake during the annual Long Lake Fishing Derby. It was about 2 pounds shy of the third-place cusk by late Sunday afternoon. The first place cusk at 3:30 p.m. was 11 pounds 10.3 ounces, 33 1/2 inches long, brought in by Eric Bourgoin on Square Lake. (Courtesy of Josh Rogers)

“We’ve been trying to get more involved,” he said. “Everybody is getting older, and they don’t want to do it forever. And we’d like to see it keep going. We pretty much run the weigh station at this point, taking some pressure off my father and Ryan [Pelletier, derby committee member].”

Jacob Bernier said it was encouraging to see the event get record attendance this year.

“It’s nice to know the derby is still growing a little bit,” he said. “At some point it’s going to level off, but as long as people keep supporting it, we’ll keep doing it.”