Ice fishing derbies in central Maine are being canceled as anglers bemoan the unusually warm winter, which has made for questionable ice conditions on local lakes and ponds.

Organizers from Friends of Messalonskee intended to sponsor their first fishing tournament the weekend of March 6 on Messalonskee Lake in Oakland, but they canceled the event last week after deciding that it wasn’t safe to encourage people to go out on the ice.

“I just wasn’t comfortable sending families out there to fish,” Anne Hammond, the organization’s treasurer, said Thursday. “I thought it was a huge risk.”

To make up for the canceled event, the Friends of Messalonskee plan to sponsor an open-water fishing tournament in July.

Another derby, scheduled for this weekend and hosted by the Cape Cod Hill School in New Sharon, also has been called off.

James Prescott, who organizes a derby on Crowell Pond in Chesterville, said conditions were too uncertain to risk the event. This is the first time in eight years when he’s had to cancel, he said.

“We’re not going to put little kids at risk. It’s not worth it,” Prescott said. “We really didn’t have a winter this year.”

Poor ice conditions have persisted in southern and central Maine this winter as lakes have gone through a “roller coaster” of temperatures and conditions, leaving ice that is thick in places but not necessarily safe, said Maine Warden Service spokesman Cpl. John MacDonald.

“We usually see things buttoned up pretty well by February. We haven’t seen that,” he said.

Lakes and ponds still had plenty of open water in early January, and fishing competitions were delayed as mild weather slowed ice formation. The last fishing derbies of the season are held this weekend and next, according to a Maine Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife schedule.

Warm temperature and rainstorms thaw ice into slush, which then reforms when temperatures get below freezing, leaving brittle, poor quality ice. There have been several periods of relatively warm, rainy weather this winter, including soaking rain Wednesday and thunderstorms early Thursday morning.

It was 51 degrees Thursday afternoon in Waterville, and the National Weather Service was forecasting a high of 58 degrees.

“On most of the big lakes, I wouldn’t go out on any,” MacDonald said Thursday.

If people are fishing, they are sticking to smaller sheltered ponds or close to the shoreline, and even those tend to be treacherous, he added.

“Statewide, it is very unsafe right now,” he said. The warm temperature and late ice formation probably will throw off people’s guesses for annual ice-out contests too.

Bruce Dyke, who runs the ice-out contest on Wilson Lake in Wilton that’s sponsored by Wilton Fish and Game, said people usually have until April 1 to put in their guess for when the last ice will disappear. This year, he had to put out a caveat that tickets would be accepted until the deadline or 48 hours before ice-out.

“I don’t know if we’re going to have ice by April 1,” Dyke said.

According to guidelines from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 2 inches or less of new, clear ice is unsafe for any travel, but 4 inches is safe for foot travel and 5 inches is safe enough for snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, while 8 to 12 inches supports a car or small pickup truck.

Despite the spotty ice, some groups are going ahead with fishing tournaments this weekend.

Organizers of the Sebago Lake Ice Fishing Derby, planned for this weekend, announced this week that the portion of the derby on Sebago Lake would not be held because of unpredictable and unsafe ice conditions. The contest is organized by the Sebago Lake Rotary.

Anglers still can participate in the event on 50 lakes and ponds in Cumberland County.

The West Gardiner Rod and Gun Club also isn’t canceling its statewide derby scheduled for this weekend.

“I think most people are basically aware of the ice problem,” club secretary Nancy Weeks said. “It’s hard to cancel something that is statewide,” she added.

Mainly local people compete in the derby, but others tend to travel to areas farther north, such the Moosehead Lake region, where ice might be thicker, Weeks said. The contest weigh-in is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at the clubhouse on Collins Mills Road.

For those headed out on the ice this weekend, MacDonald, from the Warden Service, urged safety.

“We just caution people to check the ice as they go out, follow our recommendations online,” he said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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