SEBAGO LAKE – The Sebago Lake portion of this weekend’s Sebago Lake Rotary Club Ice Fishing Derbies has been canceled due to poor ice conditions, event organizers reported Wednesday afternoon.
However, organizers say fishing will take place on all other ponds and lakes in Cumberland County that have adequate ice, and the popular Polar Ice Dip at Raymond Beach is still on as scheduled.
Anglers can enter perch, pickerel or cusk into the Cumberland County Derby and vie for $20,000 worth of prizes. All prize pools have shifted from the Sebago Lake Derby to the Cumberland County Derby.
“We need to make sure that everyone who fishes in our derbies is safe, so the Cumberland County Derby will happen as planned. There’s plenty of safe ice on lakes other than Sebago throughout Cumberland County,” said Steve McFarland of the Rotary Club.
The derby is one of the largest wintertime events in the Lakes Region. Warm weather in recent years has played havoc with plans. This year is no exception. Learning their lesson, this year organizers prepared for a scenario in which Sebago had no ice by expanding the derby to other lakes in the county.
“This is exactly why we added the Cumberland County Derby so we can still fish, we can still raise money for charity. That’s what our club is all about,” McFarland said.
McFarland said last weekend’s blizzard left conditions on Sebago Lake “too variable and changing too rapidly for derby officials to feel that everyone can fish safely.”
McFarland and Maine game wardens went out on Sebago Wednesday morning to test conditions and found Big Bay nearly devoid of ice. They also found numerous pressure ridges in Jordan Bay with open water on either side of the ridges. There were also a number of sizeable areas of open water throughout Jordan Bay.
“We fear that snowmobiles may not see these areas until it is too late, and drive into open water,” McFarland said.
Especially weighing on organizers’ minds is a potential repeat of 2010 when people and equipment fell into a rapidly melting Jordan Bay on the first day of the derby. That year, Sunday’s portion of the derby was canceled and a man died trying to lift his submerged snow machine the following Monday.
With a sunny Saturday in the forecast, organizers were worried a similar rapid melting could take place.
“The Warden Service has assessed that overall conditions are similar to 2010, when dozens of people fell through the ice,” McFarland said. “We never want to repeat that scenario again. We strongly urge everyone to fish on any other lake in Cumberland County.”
McFarland clarified that ice fishing can still take place on Sebago, but only perch, pickerel and cusk can be entered into the competition. He said Sebago doesn’t offer any competitive advantage regarding the three species and that Sebago is more known for its large togue and northern pike, which cannot be entered in the contest.
McFarland said all weigh stations around Sebago Lake – Sebago Lake Station, Jordan’s Store in Sebago and Raymond Beach – will remain the same. Additional weigh stations include Chalmers Insurance in Bridgton, located at the base of Highland Lake, and the Big Apple on Route 26 in Oxford.
While fishing has shifted to other lakes in the county, the traditional big draw on Sebago Lake on Saturday is the Shaw’s/Maine Children’s Cancer Polar Dip, which is still set for noon just off Raymond Beach, says organizer Jeff Purdy, Shaw’s supermarket store manager in Windham.
“This is our 11th year, and ours is kind of special because we’re cutting a hole in the ice, rather than running into open water … So that makes it an exciting event,” Purdy said.
Last year, the dip raised $111,000 for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program, based at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center. More than 200 jumpers took part, making it one of Shaw’s largest annual fundraisers. Purdy said there are just as many jumpers registered for Saturday’s event, and with about 10 inches of ice and a clear weather forecast, the situation is ideal to draw just as many jumpers.
“We have a lot of Shaw’s jumpers, but a lot of local businesses have jumped on along the way. So I think it’s kind of growing in the community. It’s such an exciting event that once you do it once, you kind of get addicted to it because it’s a great feeling to be part of it,” Purdy said.
Other Sebago Lake-based activities that are still on include Sunday’s snowmobile speed runs, which take place on a 1,000-foot, plowed strip of ice off Raymond Beach, as well as vendors selling food at Raymond Beach.