Organizers postpone Hancock County fishing derby citing dangerous ice

HOLDEN, Maine — The organizer of one of the region’s largest ice fishing derbies announced on Monday that this weekend’s G&M Family Market Hancock County derby will be postponed because of dangerous ice conditions.

Steve Burtt of Orrington tries his luck ice fishing on Brewer Lake on Jan. 6, 2016. Burtt said he drilled a hole through three or four inches of ice, but the ice farther away from shore looked to be much thinner. (BDN photo by John Holyoke)

Steve Burtt of Orrington tries his luck ice fishing on Brewer Lake on Jan. 6, 2016. Burtt said he drilled a hole through three or four inches of ice, but the ice farther away from shore looked to be much thinner. Many local lakes are still unsafe, and the G&M Family Market Hancock County Ice Fishing Derby scheduled for this weekend has been postponed until Feb. 20-21. (BDN photo by John Holyoke)

Greg Hawes of G&M Family Market was optimistic last week that a recent cold snap would make local lakes fishable by Jan. 30-31, the dates of his derby. After consulting with Gregory Burr, regional fisheries biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Hawes set a new course on Monday and postponed the event until Feb. 20-21.

“I have learned that ice conditions are safe in some places and certainly unsafe in other places,” Hawes said. “By holding the derby, I feel that we [would be] saying that we think it’s safe enough to go out and fish, and we [would be] encouraging you to come in and buy as many tickets as you can and go out and fish. That’s the last thing I want to do when it is not safe out there.”

Hawes said last year’s derby, which allows anglers to enter fish caught on any legal water in Hancock County, drew between 500 and 600 anglers.

Burr said larger, deeper lakes in Hancock County have been particularly slow in freezing this year.

“With this cold weather that we had last week we thought everything would seal up and we thought we’d get more cold weather this week and we’d be fine for the weekend,” Burr said. “But the wind has not settled down, and even though we’ve had cold temperatures, we have open water on several of our larger lakes.”

Among the lakes that still had open water on Monday, according to Burr: Branch Pond, Long Pond, Jordan Pond, Tunk Lake and First Toddy Pond.

Burr said anglers are understandably cautious, and might have been reluctant to enter the G&M derby because of safety concerns. Postponement was the right call, he said.

“I think [Hawes] is right in what he’s doing, both from a liability standpoint and with people being so cautious, they’re not going to want to get out there and fish [where ice may be safe]. The turnout would be way down, which is certainly not what this event wants.”

Hawes said preparations will now focus on a February derby, but those already entered needn’t buy another ticket.

“All tickets purchased up until this point are good for the makeup date,” he said. “All [raffle] tickets that have been purchased for the four-wheeler are good for the makeup date. And if people choose to [not participate in February], they can just come in [to the store] and we will give a full refund for everything they’ve bought up until this point.”

An important point: It’s not just Hancock County suffering from inconsistent ice on its lakes.

Maine game warden Joe Bailey checked in on Monday to urge caution on all Maine lakes.

“The ice is still unsafe on many lakes and ponds. Cold Stream Pond, a popular ice fishing lake, has approximately six inches near shore but significantly less out near the middle,” Bailey wrote in an email. “West Lake is very similar.”

Bailey said his warden service colleagues are very concerned about the potential risk.

“From talking with other local game wardens, we are finding that the ice conditions can vary on individual lakes and ponds based on the characteristics of that body of water, going from 6 inches to 1-2 inches in the span of 200 yards,” Bailey wrote. “Lately we have responded to several emergency calls for ATVs and snowmobiles through the ice and I want to urge people taking part in recreational activities on lakes and ponds to be cautious and take steps to ensure their own safety.”


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.