The Ladies Delight lighthouse is seen framed between ice fishing parties Saturday on Lake Cobbossee in East Winthrop. The fishing derby was a Project Graduation fundraiser for Cony High School in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

WINTHROP — Frigid, windy conditions Saturday did not discourage ice fishing enthusiasts from spreading out across Cobbossee Lake to catch fish and haul in some cash to benefit Cony High School’s Project Graduation fund.

Organizer Dave Stolt said more than 1,000 participants were on the lake and the entry fees and raffle raised about $10,000. That money will go toward graduation activities for seniors at Cony, which is designed to be their final goodbye before heading their separate ways in June.

Cobbosseecontee Lake, as it is also known, is bordered by five towns: Litchfield, Manchester, Monmouth, West Gardiner and Winthrop.

Stolt said Project Graduation didn’t culminate in an event for seniors, who graduated last year in small groups due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, funds raised were used to curate goodie bags for the students. Stolt said hopefully the students can have some sort of event this year, but planning has been hampered because many performers or activities providers have not been vaccinated yet.

“They usually have a psychic, a comic (and) a DJ,” Stolt said. “The people who traditionally fill those types of roles say they aren’t booking anything.”

Cash prizes were given Saturday for the largest pike, brown trout, pickerel, and perch or crappie. A trap was awarded to the child who caught the smallest registered fish of the day.

There was about 20 inches of ice on parts of the lake, according to Bobby Reynolds of Manchester. Reynolds was using a gas-powered auger to drill holes for his traps. His strategy was to follow the natural slope of the lakebed, where he said pike prefer to congregate. Reynolds said his personal best pike was 16 pounds, which he said would probably win Saturday’s derby.

Ice chips fly from under the spinning blades of his ice auger Saturday as Bobby Reynolds starts drilling through 20 inches of frozen lake to set his traps during an ice fishing derby on Lake Cobbossee in East Winthrop. The event was a Project Graduation fundraiser for Cony High School in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Reynolds said that he has noticed ice fishing spike in popularity during the pandemic, which he attributed to the activity’s built-in social distancing.

“You go to the bait shops and there’s always a line of people to get bait,” Reynolds said. “I don’t think the coronavirus is tougher than an eight-degree day on the Cobbossee with the wind blowing.”

A couple hundred feet from Reynolds, Michael McMullen of Portland and his group had drawn in a couple of fish, but the one-pound pickerel were hardly prize-winners. McMullen said he has done more ice fishing this year due to the pandemic, which he said has transformed the entertainment scene in Portland.

“This is the escape to get out and get back in tune with fishing,” he said.

Stolt said around 8 a.m. that people had been steadily flowing onto the lake. Cars lined Turtle Run Road, which is just off of Route 202 in Winthrop, and numerous tents and shacks were visible on the ice looking toward Welch Point. Stolt said the Monmouth side of the lake was much busier, and traffic near the boat launch was halted by Monmouth Police Department at about 6 a.m.

Mickey Bechard of Augusta said he tries to support Cony High School as much as possible, as his three children graduated from the school and his niece is a current student. Bechard was keyed on pike for Saturday’s derby, and placed his traps over an area where a large pike was caught earlier in the week.

Mickey Bechard sits in the sunshine waiting patiently for a flag to tip up on one of his ice fishing traps during Saturday’s ice fishing derby on Lake Cobbossee in East Winthrop. The event was a Project Graduation fundraiser for Cony High School in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“A 20-pounder would be nice to weigh in,” Bechard said.

Bechard’s group was standing outside a lavish ice fishing shack, when compared to some tents and other setups on the lake. Bechard said he and his group have been fishing as normal through the pandemic and participating in derbies, which haven’t been hampered by the pandemic.

“It’s perfect,” he said. “It’s a little windy but that’s why we use the shed.”

Fundraising efforts have also been altered by the pandemic. Organizer Julie Franchetti Stolt told the Kennebec Journal earlier this week that organizing parents had to get creative to raise money for Project Graduation in a coronavirus-safe way.

“We had to do out-of-the-box thinking,” she said. “We hosted a golf tournament (in the fall) and it was COVID compliant and spread out, and then the idea of ice fishing was tossed around. It’s been a lot of work.”

Franchetti Stolt said the event brought participants in from New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.


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