The Sebago Lake Rotary Ice Fishing Derby will go on as planned this weekend, but officials have doubts whether the lake’s ice will be safe enough to hold the event there.

If not, the fishing derby will be held Saturday and Sunday on smaller lakes and ponds in Cumberland County. A decision will be made Thursday and posted on the derby’s website,, according to Deb McPhail, president of the Sebago Lake Rotary Club.

Rotary club officials had discussions Tuesday with the Maine Warden Service about the ice on Sebago Lake in light of mild temperatures forecast for Wednesday evening and Thursday. “We need to see what happens the next two days,” McPhail said.

Maine Game Warden Sgt. Jason Luce said the Warden Service recommended that organizers hold the event elsewhere.

“As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t any safe ice on Sebago,” he said.

Luce said many lakes and ponds in Cumberland County have safe ice, but anglers need to be careful depending on where they go. He said nearly every lake has half as much ice as it normally does this time of year.

Since its inception in 2001, the Sebago fishing derby has been canceled four times because of a lack of safe ice on the 28,000-acre lake. In 2013, derby organizers created a contingency plan for years when Sebago offers little to no safe ice. When that happens, the derby moves to the 50 lakes and ponds in Cumberland County.

Derby fans and fishermen worry that if the main attraction for the derby – Sebago Lake – is gone, the state’s largest derby won’t draw nearly as many participants. The annual charity event raises money for such causes as Camp Sunshine, the Good Shepherd Food Bank and the Maine Children’s Cancer Program, and awards as much as $10,000 in prizes.

In addition, a major attraction is the $150,000 prize offered to any fisherman who catches a state-record togue. The state record 31.8-pound fish was caught by Hollis Grindle of Ellsworth in 1958 on Beech Hill Pond in Otis.

“The $150,000 prize really gets a lot of people out there. But naturally, we want them safe, too,” McPhail said.

If Sebago Lake is unavailable, the chances of catching a state-record togue will be greatly diminished, said regional fisheries biologist Francis Brautigam. There are not many viable togue populations elsewhere in Cumberland County, and few of those togue are large, Brautigam said.

John Miller of Windham said he wasn’t going to fish in the derby if Sebago Lake is unavailable.

“I want to catch a big fish. These small ponds are all getting fished out. I fish a lot, and I want a big fish,” Miller said.

Renee Nguyen, who works at Sebago Bait in Windham, agreed that Sebago Lake is the attraction because of the $150,000 prize.

“There is interest (in the derby), but I don’t think it’s in Cumberland County,” Nguyen said. “Everybody wants that big togue.”

The derby was started in part to help state biologists thin Sebago Lake’s large togue population in order to help the lake’s native landlocked salmon fishery.

“It’s kind of a central focus of that event,” Brautigam said. “I suspect a lot of people will want to consider alternative fish species other than lake trout (if they’re not fishing the derby on Sebago).”

McPhail said the event has raised $775,000 for charities over the years. Last year it netted $6,000 in just one day after a blizzard canceled the second day. In 2014, the derby raised $17,000.

She said the derby still is expected to draw a crowd because of an ATV that will be given away to a entrant who has his or her name drawn at random.

But there’s no denying that the Sebago derby would not be the same without Sebago Lake.

“When the big bay freezes over (the crowds are) almost like summer on Sebago Lake,” said Greg Cutting, the manager at Jordan’s Store on the west side of the lake.

“If we could consistently get ice on Sebago, we could really have something special here. But it doesn’t seem to want to cooperate.”

Greg Massey said he prefers to ice fish on Sebago, but it’s simply not safe this year in the coves or along the shore.

“Sebago is an awesome place to fish for togue, but you just can’t count on the ice conditions. I fished Thompson Lake and there’s just 6 inches,” Massey said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.