Smaller derby still lures fishermen

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Jonathan Koperniak, of Cumberland, accepts his trophy for catching the largest togue during the Sebago Lakes Rotary Ice Fishing Derbies this past weekend. Koperniak caught the 4.44 pound fish on Thompson Lake. 
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WINDHAM — Participants in the Sebago Lake Rotary Ice Fishing Derbies this weekend, some of whom reported less-than-ideal ice conditions, hauled in more than 600 fish over the two-day event.

Poor ice and safety concerns led to the cancellation of the Sebago Lake portion of the event, but smaller Cumberland County lakes and ponds drew fishermen nonetheless.

Perhaps the biggest draw for the derby is the $100,000 prize for a state record togue, also known as lake trout – a record of 31 pounds, eight ounces that has belonged to Hollis Grindle since 1958. But with the Sebago portion canceled, the top prize was essentially off the table.

Jonathan Koperniak of Cumberland caught the event’s biggest togue while fishing Saturday on Thompson Lake. He thought his 4.44 pound fish might be the smallest winning togue in derby history, but the story behind the fish is no small tale. Koperniak says that the winning flag went up just as his wife Kristin brought their 3-month-old daughter Bridget onto the ice for the first time.

Other derby winners were Jennifer Cobb with the largest perch (1.76 pounds), Ben Carlin with the largest pike (5.94 pounds), and Zack Boucher with the largest pickerel (4.2 pounds). All category winners are determined by weight, with length used as a tiebreaker. First place winners received a $500 gift card to Kittery Trading post. Second place and third place finishers received $200 and $100,  respectively.

Boucher, of Bridgton, even brought his big fish to the award ceremony at the Windham Indoor Shooting Range on Sunday night to hold up as he accepted his trophy. He caught the pickerel while fishing Sunday on Moose Pond.

Rotary organizers seemed happy with the derby results, especially considering the ice conditions.

“Of course, we hate Mother Nature because about two weeks ago it looked like we would be all set on Sebago Lake, and look what happened, but we got Cumberland County, so we’re really happy about that, ” said Rotary member Debbie McPhail during the awards ceremony. “We want to thank all you fishermen and women that fished, hope you had a good time.”

Several participants reported poor visibility from fog at various points during the derby, along with several inches of slush on top of the ice. Despite those complications, and the relative lack of fishing on Sebago, many seemed happy to be out on the ice.

Troy Holston and Kurt Kiley fished Saturday on Highland Lake in Windham, where they landed a total of 12 fish (some were bass and were thrown back into the lake). Holston, of Windham, said that Highland Lake was fairly crowded on Saturday. They planned to hit the ice again on Sunday.

The derby awards ceremony Sunday night featured a prize give-away for all derby entrants. Names were pulled out of a “fish pool” bin, and the prizes ranged from a Polaris ATV to gift cards at local businesses.

Four-year-old Aaron Shaw of Freeport cleaned up during the prize drawing, having his name called multiple times. Shaw, whose family used to live in Standish, won several prizes including a new hat and ice fishing survival kit. His father, Mike Shaw, said that the family spent some time fishing on Long Lake over the weekend.

Organizers said that the money raised from derby entry fees will  go towards charitable causes – including support for veterans, the elderly, literacy programs, and efforts to address food insecurity. They also said Sunday that about 100 pounds of fish caught at the derby will be processed by Nova Seafood in Portland and donated to food pantries.

Though the Sebago Lake portion of the derby was canceled, the derby organizers still accepted fish caught by anyone who decided to fish on the big lake anyway.

“Some of you are brave, some of you are nuts,” Rotary President Mark Wasowski joked during the award ceremony.

Ben Carlin of Windham, who swept the pike category with all three top fish, was one of the fishermen who braved the conditions on Sebago Lake. He was happily surprised by his own success, saying, “It’s great … I happened to hit the big ones at the same time.”

Another fisherman who decided to make a go of it on Sebago was Josh Boyd of Windham.

“If you want to get a big fish, you need to go where the big fish are,” Boyd pointed out.

Koperniak, for his part, is ready to defend his biggest togue title next year.

“Oh yeah, I gotta come back next year – and hopefully fish on Sebago,” he said.

Jonathan Koperniak, of Cumberland, accepts his trophy for catching the largest togue during the Sebago Lakes Rotary Ice Fishing Derbies this past weekend. Koperniak caught the 4.44 pound fish on Thompson Lake.

Aaron Shaw, 4, of Freeport, won several prizes at the Sebago Lakes Rotary Ice Fishing Derbies awards ceremony on Sunday night. His father, Mike, says that they fished on Long Lake during the derby.

Despite the Sebago portion of the derby being canceled, some still braved the conditions on the big lake in search of big fish.

Troy Holston, of Windham, and Kurt Kiley of New Hampshire, at the Sebago Lake Station Landing fish weigh station. They fished on Saturday at Highland Lake in Windham.

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