Jan. 29—Maine's largest lake will be bustling with winter activity this weekend.
Blizzard or no blizzard, shacks are out, snowmobiles buzzing and tip-ups set for the 15th edition of the Moosehead Lake Togue Derby.
Discriminating ice fisherman took to the ice on Friday, opening day of the event, many hoping to get some flags before the forecast snowstorm hits the state.
The derby is sponsored by the Natural Resource Education Center at Moosehead and offers an assortment of prizes including cash and raffle items.
Derby organizers have put out the word to anglers to keep their limit of smaller togue during the event to help the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife control the population in Moosehead Lake.
The daily bag limit on togue at Moosehead is one fish over 18 inches. There is no minimum length limit, with a total daily limit of five total fish.
Ice fishing regulations at Moosehead require anglers to release landlocked salmon at once, without removing them from the water.
The togue derby, which for many years was headlined by Newburgh native and former NASCAR racer Ricky Craven, was initiated by DIF&W for that exact reason.
Lake trout had proliferated in Moosehead to the point where they were eating all the smelt, which also is the primary food for other key freshwater game species such as landlocked salmon and brook trout.
DIF&W altered the law at the time to allow unlimited harvest of togue measuring less than 18 inches. The effort resulted in a harvest of 80,000 smaller togue, and another 10,000-15,000 measuring more than 18 inches, over a three-year period.
"That's what really turned things around for Moosehead," regional fisheries biologist Tim Obrey told the Bangor Daily News in 2019.
That allowed DIF&W to re-institute the five-fish limit that is now in place.
The anglers who land the three largest togue will take home $1,500 for first place, $500 to the runner-up and $250 for third place.
That said, you needn't even fish to win. Purchase of a derby ticket puts you in the running for more than 50 other prizes, including a first-place check of $1,500.
Gift cards, gift certificates, gas cards, sporting event tickets and prizes from businesses across Maine all are up for grabs. There's also a youth prize drawing that will provide a lucky recipient age 15 or younger with a lifetime Maine resident fishing license.
The derby, which runs through Sunday afternoon, costs $25 for an individual, $40 for a family (parents, grandparents or guardians and children age 17 or under) and $5 for the youth raffle.
Ticket sales end at noon Saturday at participating locations and online.
There is no dinner being held for participants this year because of COVID-19 concerns, so the names of door prize winners will be drawn on Saturday evening and the results posted on the NREC Facebook page.
Only togue may be entered in the derby and must be caught between 1 a.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Sunday. To have a fish weighed, it must be presented with a valid entry form.
Bartley Event Center in Greenville and Moosehead Bait and Tackle in Rockwood are the official weigh stations.
There are numerous other ice fishing derbies across Maine in the coming weeks. If you would like to share information about your event, send an email with the derby details to email@example.com.