Chesuncook Derby wrap up

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Saturday, May 25 was the first day this year that the temperature exceeded 70 degrees at Chesuncook Lake. The lake was flat calm in the morning and there was just a whiff of a breeze in the afternoon. The sun was reflecting brightly off the cool glassy lake surface. If you weren’t paying attention, you ended up with a nice spring sunburn. The flying ants and other insects were stretching their wings and shrugging off Maine’s lethargic start to spring.

It was a perfect day for fishing … perhaps too perfect … because the salmon developed a severe case of “lockjaw.” More than likely, they were focused on slurping up the flying ants that had met a watery demise, while anglers were trolling the typical spring smelt patterns, bait and hardware. Nonetheless, the fishing was a little slow on Saturday. But heavy showers Saturday night and a cool wind on Sunday helped to pick things up and we saw a steady stream of fish come into the weigh station in the afternoon.

The fish near the top of the leader board for most of the derby ranged from 17 to 19 inches and weighed around 2 pounds. On Sunday afternoon, Scott Verrill of Cumberland Center brought in a 23.75-inch salmon that weighed just over 3 pounds. Verill also had a bag full of small salmon for the fish pool. In all, we had 142 salmon less than 16 inches entered into the fish pool.

Verill must have had his lucky socks on the correct feet this day because one of his tickets for the fish pool was also drawn at the close of the derby. The fortunate angler swept the cash prizes and went home with a check for $1,000! Indian Hill Trading Post donated a nice trolling rod and reel as an additional prize for the fish pool and Daryl DeLong was the winner.

While some of the salmon were certainly lean, like Verrill’s winning fish, there were also some nice healthy looking fish. There is reason to be optimistic about the future of the salmon at Chesuncook Lake. We estimated that anglers were harvesting between 2000 to 3000 salmon annually when the lake had its best salmon growth in the not-so-distant past.

In 2017, before the derby, we estimated the harvest to be just over 300 salmon. We need to make up that difference and the derby certainly helps. The derby helps to spread the word that it’s ok to keep those small fish. We want that message to resonate with both summer and winter anglers throughout the year. It may seem awkward to keep unlimited numbers of salmon under 16 inches, including fish less than 14 inches, but the quicker these fish are thinned out, the quicker the forage will recover and you will see larger salmon again.

This was just the second year of the derby and we nearly doubled the ticket sales from last year. The turnout was excellent and there is room to grow. Thanks to the Natural Resource Education Center at Moosehead (NREC) for organizing the derby. They put up the prize money and took care of the administration. I know they are looking for more sponsors to help make this a bigger and better event, so if you know of any businesses that might be interested, contact NREC through their website or Facebook page. We want to thank Belinda, Steve, and the family at Allagash Gateway Campground. They sold a lot of tickets and really helped to get the word out. Also thanks to Indian Hill Trading Post and Two Rivers Canoe and Tackle for their support and ticket sales.

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