Looking for a big fish? Schoodic derby may have just what you’re looking for

In some lakes — even some of the state’s most popular ice fishing spots — anglers spend countless hours knowing that their chances of catching a truly large fish are low.

It’s not all about the big fish, of course. People target lakes for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they’re familiar with a particular body of water. Perhaps it’s just convenient. Either way, it’s possible to have a lot of fun on the ice even when everybody tells you that there aren’t any lunkers lurking below.

At some lakes, however, the big fish are present. They do make periodic appearances. And even though catching one isn’t likely, simply knowing that such fish are swimming below your feet can make an angler take every flag a bit more seriously.

Want an example? How about heading to Schoodic Lake this weekend.

On Monday I spent some time on the phone with Gordon “Nels” Kramer, who manages the Schoodic fishery as regional biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Kramer gave me a couple of good reasons for folks to head to Schoodic.

First: The 50th annual Schoodic Lake Ice Fishing Derby (which also includes Ebeemee and Seboeis lakes) is Feb. 18-19. More than $15,000 in prizes is up for grabs. Proceeds benefit Milo Fire Department charities and events.

DIF&W biologist Gordon "Nels" Kramer with a 7.9-pound landlocked salmon that was captured during trap-netting last fall.

And second: Well, look at this photo and answer a simple question. Wouldn’t you like to catch this fish?

I thought so.

Kramer and his MDIF&W colleagues caught the landlocked salmon, which weighed 7.9 pounds, during yearly trap-netting last fall. They also caught another salmon nearly as large.

And unless someone’s had a lucky winter, both of those fish are still swimming in the big lake located in Lakeville Plantation and Brownville. The success story that led to fish that big (and potentially larger) is an interesting one.

“Schoodic was pretty much one of the worst lakes in our region at one time,” Kramer said. “We couldn’t get a smelt population established, and that’s what drives the engine, [provides] that forage base for all of our cold-water fisheries.”

Fisheries staffers tried to transport live smelts and smelt eggs into Schoodic to jump-start the population. Nothing seemed to work. Then they tried another approach.

“It wasn’t until we stopped stocking salmon altogether [in 1992] that [the smelts] blossomed,” Kramer said. What that did was it allowed the smelt population to establish itself and start to spawn on its own.”

But starting in 1992, biologists eliminated the number of new mouths, in the form of stocked salmon, that had to be fed.

“By ’96 that smelt population just blossomed. The togue started growing big. And we went for 10 years before we stocked any salmon,” Kramer said. “Now we’re stocking such a low number [about 500 most years, on a 7,188-acre lake], and we have an established smelt population, that we can routinely grow 5-pound-plus salmon. My hope is that we’ll see a 10-pounder in the next year or so.”

As for the derby, Kramer said the work that organizers of the event have always been very helpful and provided a lot of valuable data to the state’s fisheries managers.

“Every year they collect information and forward all of their derby receipts to us,” Kramer said. “In other words, all the fish that come in, which are weighed and measured, they forward all that information to us. It’s just a wealth of information right out of the gate.”

Kramer explained that derby organizers decided long ago to start rewarding random anglers who registered fish, holding random “fish pool” drawings. Previously, organizers might only see the biggest fish, which anglers thought had a chance at winning a certain category. The result: More fish were registered. More information was gathered. And biologists received more data.

“We also usually have a request out for [organizers] to keep an eye out for fin clips on salmon and brook trout,” Kramer said.

Fins are clipped from fish at hatcheries, with all members of a given age class missing the same fin. When a fin-clipped fish is caught or trap-netted, biologists are able to cross-reference their weight with their known age and compare those results with past records and management goals.

“Knowing the age of that salmon that comes through the derby, regardless of how larger or small it might be, pairing the age with that fish is huge,” Kramer said. “And [derby organizers] have always cooperated along those lines.”

Prizes in the Schoodic Derby: $200 for the largest lake trout, salmon or trout (brookie or splake), $100 for second and $50 for third. Also, cusk, perch, pickerel and bass anglers will vie for $100 and $50 prizes.

The grand prize random drawing — derby participation not required — is a 2012 Polaris ATV.

For more information, go to trcmaine.org/fishingderby/

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.