This weekend’s Sebago Lake Rotary Ice Fishing Derby cannot be held on the lake because of unsafe ice conditions, organizers announced Wednesday.

But the annual derby will go on this weekend at smaller lakes and ponds in Cumberland County, said Debbie McPhail, the derby’s co-chair.

It’s the second straight year – and seventh time since 2002 – that the derby has been canceled on Sebago Lake because of too much open water. With ice conditions on the lake uncertain from year to year, organizers decided four years ago to expand the event to other lakes and ponds in the county.

In the past 16 years, the derby has raised $100,000 for local charities. The Maine Children’s Cancer Program also has raised $750,000 through the event. Total prize money for fishermen in this year’s event will be at least $8,000, according to the Rotary club.

The derby was created in 2001 to help thin the togue, or lake trout, in Sebago Lake to improve the landlocked salmon fishery. Togue deplete the smelt population, which is a primary food source of salmon.

The derby was canceled in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2012 because of unsafe ice on Sebago. Even with the expanded derby, the event could not be held on the big lake in 2013 and 2016.

With so many cancellations over the years, has the derby been able to help the salmon fishery on Sebago? Neither state biologists nor anglers know.

Southern Maine Regional Biologist Jim Pellerin said the Sebago salmon fishery has improved over the past 16 years, but it’s unclear whether the derby had anything to do with that.

“There are so many variables impacting the salmon, you can’t say whether harvesting 500 or 1,000 lake trout every few years is actually improving the salmon fishery,” Pellerin said.

“But it is consistent with our management for the lake, so it certainly doesn’t hurt.”

Pellerin said the data IFW has kept for 50 years shows the average length and weight for salmon right now is about the best it’s been. On average he said a 2-year-old male salmon is 18 to 20 inches long and between 2.2 to 2.7 pounds, while 3-year-old males are on average 20 to 23 inches long and between 2.8 and 4.3 pounds. Also, Pellerin said the percentage of wild salmon in the lake “has gone through the roof,” another good sign.

“The wild fish way back (in the mid-80s) was 25 percent of the catch. In 2015 it was 72 percent of the catch,” Pellerin said. “I think that’s due to a couple of things. For one, we reduced stocking.”

But Pellerin said the improved fishery is likely due to a combination of variables, including the IFW tweaking fishing regulations over the years.

As for fishermen, their opinions on the quality of the salmon fishery vary.

Peter Dunn, who lives on the shore of Sebago in Raymond, said the salmon fishery seems to be better, but he’s also gotten better at catching them.

Dunn doubts the derby had anything to do with the good health of the salmon.

“My opinion is they don’t catch enough lake trout to reduce the population that much,” Dunn said. “They catch somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 to 1,500 lake trout. That’s not much compared to the total population in the lake.”

On the other hand, Bob Chapin, an officer in the Sebago Lake Anglers Association, said it makes sense that the derby could only help salmon.

“It’s intuitive. If you’re taking away other competing fish, if you can eliminate them, you’re helping the salmon,” Chapin said. “I find it pretty good. If you know what to do and you do that, you catch fish.”

But Dave Garcia, the 36-year owner of Naples Bait and Tackle, said the salmon fishery has gone down, so the derby clearly is not helping.

“Before the derby the salmon fishery was way better,” Garcia said. “When I first started my business the smelt population was stronger and that helped the salmon fishery. But that’s gone down. Although (the salmon fishery) still is very good – just not excellent (anymore).”

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: FlemingPph

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