STANDISH — James Anderson of Windham sat in his pickup truck at the Sebago Lake Station boat landing Saturday morning contemplating the minus-6 degree landscape in front of him.

The questions facing him, he said, were whether the ice was safe and whether his buddies would be willing to brave the arctic temperatures and join him.

“I am pondering,” said Anderson.

Anderson was among dozens of would-be ice fishermen checking out the scene at Sebago Lake, where thick ice has formed weeks earlier than it has in recent years.

With the ice about 6 inches deep a half-mile out on the lower bay Saturday, fishermen were getting an early start on Sebago Lake fishing.

At this point, it appears the Sebago Lake Ice Fishing Derby will go on as planned this season, after being canceled or scaled down four times since 2002 due to thin ice. The derby is scheduled for Feb. 14 and 15. It features a $100,000 prize for anyone who catches a lake trout weighing the state record 31.8 pounds.

The derby was started 13 years ago to keep the lake’s burgeoning lake trout population from crowding out Sebago’s landlocked salmon.

If the ice is not safe, the Windham Rotary Club, which organizes the derby, will have a backup lake.

But on Saturday, four days after the season opened Jan. 1, it was looking good for this derby on this lake, at least.

“We are way ahead of schedule,” said Maine Warden Peter Herring, who was checking the ice Saturday on Sebago.

He said this could be one of the rare winters the lake entirely freezes over.

With the recent bitterly cold weather, fishermen were able to get an early jump on the ice fishing season on water bodies throughout Maine.

But only the hardiest ventured out on Sebago Lake Saturday morning.

By midmorning Mike Lorello of South Portland, Stewart Robinson of Boston, Steve McDougall of Portland and Steve Howland of South Portland had the lake to themselves, except for a couple of people more than a mile out. The four friends headed out at dawn from Sebago Lake Station with the thermometer at 16 below zero.

They snowmobiled out more than a half-mile, hauling the latest in ice-fishing equipment, to where the ice was about 6 inches thick, and set up camp. McDougall took shelter in a pop-up nylon ice fishing hut. Lorello and Howland fished in out in the open.

Three hours in, Lorello had caught and thrown back three lake trout.

Robinson fished from a larger tent, where the temperature reached a balmy 40 degrees, aided by a pot of coffee steaming on a hot plate. Robinson jigged in comfort with the help of a fish finder.

“It’s better than sitting home,” he said.

By late morning, Anderson still had not ventured out on the ice.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]