SEBAGO LAKE - Last week, poor ice conditions caused organizers to postpone the Crystal Lake Derby in Gray. This week, this winter's unseasonably warm weather has claimed another victim: the Sebago Lake Ice Fishing Derby.
With little ice on Maine's second-largest lake, the Sebago Lake Rotary Club, which organizes the derby, consulted long-range forecasts and decided Tuesday to cancel the Sebago Lake event.
However, organizers are still moving ahead with other derby-related events as scheduled. The popular Kids Derby on Range Pond in Poland will take place Saturday, Feb. 18, since ice conditions on the smaller lake are still favorable.
The Statewide Derby, which the Rotary Club organized as a backup plan should Sebago Lake fail to freeze over, is still on for March 3-4 on lakes and ponds throughout Maine.
And the Shaw's Polar Dip, scheduled for Feb. 18 at Raymond Beach, which raised $50,000 last year for Maine Children's Cancer Program, is still set to go, but probably in a different location that has yet to be determined.
According to Statewide Derby organizer Tom Noonan, the nearly 200 people who already entered the canceled Sebago Lake Derby can either take part in the Statewide Derby or have their ticket refunded.
"Anyone who had already entered will be offered a statewide entry plus a gas card for $20 in fuel from Big Apple, one of our main sponsors, or they have the option to withdraw," Noonan said. "If they want to pull out, they can, but we wanted to reward them for getting in early. But the Statewide (derby) is onward and upward."
Prize purses from the Sebago derby are also being transferred to the Statewide Derby. There is a question about the $100,000 prize for catching a Maine record-setting togue. Noonan said the club is checking with the insurance company to see if the big prize could be transferred to the Statewide Derby.
The derby has been canceled three times since its 2000 debut. Poor ice canceled the 2002 and 2007 editions before the events started. In 2010, a freak warming trend on the first day melted 5 inches of ice, prompting organizers to cancel the second and final day of fishing. (That was also the year seven people fell through the ice and a local man died while trying to retrieve his sunken ATV.)
According to meteorologist Tom Hawley, of the National Weather Service in Gray, forecasts don't offer any severe cool-down periods that could improve ice conditions.
"Right now, it doesn't look like any serious cold weather moving into the Northeast over the next several weeks," Hawley said. "I don't see any bone-chilling air, just some normal seasonal temperatures."
The average daily mean temperature for Jan. 31, the day the derby was canceled, is 22.6, Hawley said. By Feb. 18, when the derby was set to take place, temperatures average 26.2 degrees. Although ice tends to grow thicker until Feb. 25, according to historical records, Noonan and fellow Rotarians weren't willing to bet on ice developing enough on Big Sebago, Lower Bay or Jordan Bay to provide safe conditions.
"We've been tracking long-term weather forecasts looking at the rates of making ice and it was evident that the temperatures that we needed to create a safe environment weren't anywhere near what was being predicted. And the prospect of having thousands of people show up in 18 days was not probable," Noonan said Tuesday.
With 3 to 5 inches of ice on sections of Jordan Bay, Noonan is holding out hope that the snowmobile speed runs, at which state records are routinely broken, will take place Sunday, Feb. 19, "but the jury's still out on that," he said.