A crew of people participating in the Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby on Jan. 30, 2022, struggle to pull a salmon up through the fishing hole.  Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

ST. AGATHA, Maine – The ice may be thinner than usual, but the Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby is on for this weekend.

Organizers encouraged anglers to exercise common sense and caution while in pursuit of prize-worthy catches for the 18th annual event, slated both Saturday and Sunday at various waters in the St. John Valley.

Despite periods of warmer weather and thaws this winter, colder temperatures and snow have come to Aroostook County. Derby organizers say there will be enough ice for the popular fishing event, which draws anglers from as far away as Vermont, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania due to the size and variety of the fish the tournament offers. Visitors can also hit the snowmobile trails, derby chairperson Paul Bernier said.

“It is definitely still on; we’re not canceling,” derby chairman Paul Bernier said Monday. “The ice has been late coming, but last week we made some good ice when it was below freezing, like an inch a night for three or four days. It’s going to be below zero again tonight so we’ll make some more.”

Still, Bernier said people need to be careful on the ice this year.

The Long Lake ice is not strong enough to support motor vehicles, but snowmobiles and side by sides should be okay, Bernier said — but travelers need to be smart.

Proceeds from the derby will benefit the Edgar J. Paradis Cancer Fund, which provides financial assistance to family members and loved ones who accompany St. John Valley cancer patients who must travel outside the area to receive treatment. The derby has contributed more than $120,000 to since its inception.

Despite the tournament’s name, Long Lake is only one of 10 northern Maine waterways from which anglers can catch their fish. Other derby waters are St. Froid Lake, Eagle Lake, Beau Lake, Carr Pond, Cross Lake, Square Lake, Glazier Lake, Portage Lake and the St. John River.

Anglers can fish for togue, salmon, muskie, brook trout, cusk and perch.

The derby headquarters, along with the primary weigh station, will be at Lakeview Restaurant in St. Agatha. Another weigh station will be located at Misty Meadows Store in Grand Isle. Joe’s Country Store in St. Francis and B and C Pit Stop in Eagle Lake will provide muskie-only weigh stations.

Prizes include a $22,000 cash purse and the chance to win a new snowmobile, ice shack or fishing package.

Registration is available at 28 retail outlets from Houlton up north in Aroostook County, and also on a Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby app.

It is hard to say how many people will join the derby this year because most register during the final week leading up to the event and registration is also open during the derby weekend, Bernier said.

“Last year we had 1,500, the year before 1,800. It would be nice to see 18 again this year,” Bernier said.

For information, visit the Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby Facebook   page.