James Grover of Newcastle shows off the 16.4-pound lake trout he caught to win the 13th annual Moosehead Lake Togue Derby with Ricky Craven in 2020. This year's derby is scheduled for two weekends -- Jan. 29-31 and Feb. 19-21. Credit: Courtesy of Natural Resource Education Center

The three-day first half of a popular ice fishing derby on Moosehead Lake will take place this weekend, but organizers say ice conditions on the state’s largest lake are highly variable, and anglers should use extreme caution.

“Ice conditions are improving but we are still urging caution on the big lake,” said Tim Obrey of the Natural Resource Education Center, which organizes the Moosehead Lake Togue Derby with Ricky Craven. “Rockwood and points north are still very poor. We are getting reports of just a couple inches of ice up there and the few anglers that are venturing out are staying tight to shore.”

Obrey said reports indicate there’s a lot of unsafe ice on the lake presently.

“The local snowmobile club has not put the trail markers out from Rockwood to Kineo. This is our barometer for safe ice. We have seen a few anglers in the southern part of the lake,” Obrey said. “There is ice in the coves around Greenville and some in Lily Bay. We will have the weigh stations open this coming weekend but it’s best to be patient and wait for February if you’re not familiar with the lake. The fish will still be here.”

Two weeks ago the NREC announced that anglers were welcome to fish the originally scheduled dates — Jan. 29 to Jan. 31 — if the ice was safe enough, but also added a second weekend to be held Feb. 19 to Feb. 21. The goal was to avoid encouraging people to venture onto unsafe ice.

The fish caught from both weekends will be entered into one contest, with one set of prizes handed out after the February derby weekend.

This is the 14th year of the derby, which has been credited with helping rejuvenate the lake’s population lake trout (often called “togue”) by removing thousands of smaller fish and reducing the demand for the limited supply of forage fish that those togue eat.

Moosehead produces some large togue, including a 2009 behemoth that came close to breaking the state record for the species. That fish wasn’t caught during the derby, but weighed in at nearly 30 pounds.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...