An ice fishing tip-up pokes through the roughly 10 inches of ice Saturday as a group camps out with snowmobiles and sleds during Saturday’s ice fishing derby on Messalonskee Lake at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Sidney. Dylan Tusinski/Morning Sentinel

SIDNEY — More than 500 people signed up for this year’s ice fishing derby Saturday on Messalonskee Lake at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts, organizer Alyssa Quintal said.

The event is apart of Maine’s Free Fishing Weekend, when participants take to ponds, lakes and rivers for an array of ice fishing derbies across the state.

Though officials and participants had previously raised concerns about this year’s unseasonably warm winter creating thinning and slushy ice statewide, colder temperatures returned in time for most derbies to continue as planned.

“We did the ice fishing derby last year, and it was very small, only a few dozen people,” Quintal said. “But then we had so much interest from the public, and it kind of grew from there. We’ve had a lot of outreach from the community.”

Cameron Dufour, one of about a dozen volunteers on hand for the event Saturday morning, said he felt compelled to help the event grow after he and his family attended it last year.

“I think the biggest part of ice fishing is literally just everybody hanging out on the ice,” he said. “The biggest drive for me is just friends and family. Fishing and telling stories and stuff.”


An onlooker surveys the biggest catches during Saturday’s ice fishing derby on Messalonskee Lake at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Sidney. Organizers say the largest fish weighed in at 19.75 pounds. Dylan Tusinski photo

At around 11 a.m., Dufour said the largest fish that had been caught was a pike that weighed 19.75 pounds. That fish, caught by Robert Nason, remained the winner when the derby concluded at 3:30 p.m.

Quintal says she and other organizers were concerned that conditions would be similar to last year, when warm weather untimely thaws the ice. Some experts described it as “sketchy at best” and one of the poorest ice fishing seasons in recent memory.

“The weather was warmer, and it wasn’t until the week of the derby that we had it that the temperatures started to get cold,” Quintal said. “With the rain and everything, it’s affecting all the surrounding bodies of water, not just ours.”

Just hours before the derby began, Quintal said a massive ridge in the ice opened up near the lake’s center, caused in large part by recent weather patterns and the opening of dams upstream near Oakland that disrupted the already-settled lake ice.

The Messalonskee derby was still safe, she emphasized, as it was held nearly a mile away on 9-12 inches of ice that has been routinely checked for safety.

“A ridge started to form about a mile south of here, and it spans from one shore to the next,” Quintal said. “Some segments of it, it’s as much as 20 feet wide. … Last Sunday the ridge started to form, and then all heck broke loose yesterday because it went from a couple inches to 20 feet.”


A snowmobiler rides past an array of ice fishing camps Saturday during an ice fishing derby on Messalonskee Lake at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Sidney. Organizers say more than 500 people had registered for the event. Dylan Tusinski/Morning Sentinel

While temperatures are expected to stay below freezing for much of the weekend, participants should still check ice thickness before walking, skating or driving on it, according to Mark Latti, communications director for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife.

“You can’t tell how good the ice is just from looking at it, so you always need to drill a hole or chop a hole in it to see,” he said. “Generally, this time of year in Maine, if you look you can find safe ice where you can fish or snowmobile or skate, but that doesn’t mean all ice.”

Both Quintal and Latti said 4 inches of ice is safe to walk on, 6 inches is safe for snowmobiling, and 12 inches is needed for larger vehicles.

Though fishing spots in Sidney and beyond were open for business, Latti described the ice conditions elsewhere in the state as “very variable.”

“Even on the same lake, we can have some really good ice, over 10 inches, and then we get into some areas where we’re under 4 inches, maybe even open water in some spots,” he said. “The conditions have varied, and we urge all people to check the ice before going out.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. 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.

filed under: