RAYMOND — Josh Watson rushed from his truck cradling a basket of fish Sunday morning, ran up the stairs into the Sebago Lake Rotary Ice Fishing Derby weigh station in Raymond and slammed a mighty lake trout onto the measuring block.

“It was 33 inches and a quarter when I measured him. I measured him three times,” said Watson, trying to catch his breath.

Watson, of Richmond, had fled with the fish just moments after his son Cash, 7, pulled the 10.1-pound lake trout, also known as a togue, from the icy waters of Kettle Cove a couple of miles away.

There wasn’t a moment to waste, said Watson, because a fish can quickly lose its heft in the shock of leaving the lake.

“They shrink fast,” said Watson, imploring the Maine Warden Service officer who was measuring the fish to “stretch him.”

“I got 33 inches and 1/16,” announced Sgt. Jason Luce, the warden service officer.

That was just 1/16 of an inch over the legal size limit, enough to allow Watson to keep the fish and more than enough to rank the togue as the second largest to be weighed in so far at the annual fishing derby Saturday and Sunday.

With ideal conditions of sunny skies and no wind, the derby drew large numbers of competitors. A huge rush was expected Sunday at the Raymond weigh station, one of three around the lake, as the 4 p.m. deadline neared.

The derby was fulfilling its reputation as the state’s largest fishing contest, attracting a flurry of activity on Sebago Lake and area ponds and lakes elsewhere in Cumberland County. There were 864 registrants for this year’s derby versus 1,052 last year, but officials they were competing with other derbies this year.

Organized by the Sebago Lake Rotary Club and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the charitable event was started 18 years ago as a way to prevent the lake’s togue population from crowding out its prized landlocked salmon.

Many of the fish that are caught, which include pickerel, pike and perch, are donated for food. The fish are transported by the high school division of Sebago Lake Rotary to Nova Seafood in Portland, which processes the catch. It is then transported to the Preble Street Soup Kitchen, which in past years has turned it into enough chowder for about 1,000 servings.

The derby has raised more than $1 million for local charities in the past 17 years.

On Sunday, Sebago Lake was dotted with pop-up fishing huts as fishermen patiently waited for a bite.

Justin Grandmaison, Mark Schmidt, Brian Rocray and Alicia Walby show off the pike they caught Sunday during the Sebago Lake Rotary Ice Fishing Derby. Staff photo by Jill Brady

Derek Merrill of South Portland, who had been out both days, wound up with a single fish.

“They call it fishing. They don’t call it catching,” emphasized Merrill, who was fishing in 120-foot deep water.

Rotary volunteer Nicole Lajoie reacts as Josh Watson holds up the 10.1-pound, 33 1/16- inch togue caught by his son Cash, 7, at the Raymond weigh station during the Sebago Lake Rotary Ice Fishing Derby. Staff photo by Jill Brady

Merrill said he just liked to be out of doors, watching the juvenile bald eagles scrounge for the fish left out on the ice by unsuspecting anglers.

A group of five fishing buddies were plucking dozens of fish from their holes in a channel off Jordan Bay.

“We are keeping them to turn them in for the soup kitchen,” said Brian Rocray of Shapleigh, who was joined by his fiancée, Alicia Walby of Shapleigh, and their friends Justin Grandmaison of Raymond, Mark Schmidt of Raymond and Josh Mackey of Danvers, Massachusetts.

Everyone was trying to beat the all-time Maine togue record, a 31.8-pound specimen snagged in 1958, and walk away with a $100,000 prize.

But no one came close, and no other records were broken.

 

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