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Fishermen, ploye fans enjoy weekend of festivities in Fort Kent area

Brody Gagnon casts a line into the Fish River Saturday morning. Anglers gathered in Fort Kent Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a shot at a total of $35,000 in prize money during the International Muskie Derby. (Don Eno)

FORT KENT, Maine — The couple that fishes together wins together. At least that was the case for Chuck and Debbie Cabaniss of Vassalboro, who reeled in first and eleventh place respectively in the 13th annual International Muskie Derby held over the weekend.

“I came up and fished in the same places I always fish, and used the lures I always use at the same times, and with the same techniques I always use, and it worked,” Chuck Cabaniss said Sunday. “When they’re biting they’re biting and when they’re not they’re not.”

The couple, who fished in Grand Isle with their 22-year-old son Sean, has a history of success with the muskellunge fishing derby.

“She won it two years ago,” Cabaniss said of his wife.

While the derby headquarters were in Fort Kent, where the 24th Annual Ploye Festival also was held this weekend, competitors were able to fish the waters of the St, John River and any of its tributaries or the lakes on those tributaries where muskie are found.

Local crafters, from left, Joan Dumais, Bernette Babin and Claudette Babin with “Princess” sell handmade items Saturday, as part of the 24th Annual Ploye Festival’s sidewalk sale in Fort Kent. (Don Eno)

Chuck Cabaniss caught his 45 ⅞-inch winning muskie using stickbait at around 9 a.m. Friday morning, and he did not expect such an early entry in the three-day long competition to hold up at the top of the leaderboard.

“I’m surprised it made it all the way through,” he said.

Cabaniss netted $2,000 of the $35,000 in derby prize money for his efforts.

Eathan Lavigne of Gardner topped the 18 and under leaderboard, winning $500. The youngster used a net to pull in his giant muskie, while fishing with his grandfather and uncle.

“I just saw it down in the water and I was like ‘Oh gosh,’” Lavigne said of his 43⅛ -inch prize catch. “It was lifting me up.”

Paul Guimond watches the antique tractor pull events on Saturday with his grandchildren Ellie and Ian Taggett. The event was one of the many activities held during the 24th Annual Ploye Festival in Fort Kent. (Don Eno)

The derby also featured a separate bass category, which Bruce Bouley of Grand Isle won with a 21¼-inch,  5 pound 9 ounce fish that earned him $1,000.

A total of 420 fishermen registered for the derby, according to a representative for Up North Outdoors & Online, which hosted the event. Complete results of the derby were to be posted on the Up North Outdoors & Online Facebook page.

Dennis Cyr, chair of the derby, said he spoke with anglers who hailed from around the state as well as New York and Vermont. Some previous visitors had brought friends with them this year.

“That’s what happens,” Cyr said. “They enjoy visiting and they bring their friends back next time.”

This year marked the 10th that the derby partners with the annual Ploye Festival, which the Greater Fort Kent Area Chamber of Commerce sponsors, making for a busy and well-visited town during the weekend. Events included a gathering at Riverside Park Friday evening to watch the Bouchard family and their friends cook the “world’s biggest ploye,” which measured 12 feet in diameter.

People gathered at the park that evening were able to get a sample of the giant ploye, complete with melted butter. Earlier that day, children took part in numerous activities, including a ploye eating contest and frog jumping competition. That night also featured fireworks.

Several merchants and crafters took part in a downtown sidewalk sale Saturday. The local chamber encouraged merchants and vendors to participate in the sale, as a way to take advantage of the additional foot traffic in the community.

Dr. John Bouchard of Fort Kent drives his antique John Deere tractor during a run at the Northern Maine Antique Tractor club’s tractor pulling contest on Saturday in Fort Kent. The event was part of the community’s annual Ploye Festival. (Don Eno)

Janice Bernier of Fort Kent was selling handcrafted wool mittens, made from recycled wool.

“I get old wool clothes from thrift shops. Then I wash them, take them apart and make things,” she said.

Lisa Nolan of Frenchville, an independent consultant for Paparazzi jewelry, also participated in the annual craft fair.

“Yesterday rocked,” Molan said Saturday. “It was a very good turnout.”

Although much of the Ploye Festival fanfare occurred Friday, many people were still milling around downtown Fort Kent and Riverside Park on Saturday, watching the Lions Club golf ball drop fundraiser,  checking out the fishing derby headquarters tent to see what big fish anglers had brought in and to take advantage of tasty treats still being served up at food booths sponsored by various community groups.

The Lions Club paid out $2,000 in prize money during the organization’s 8th annual golf ball drop, which involved raffling off numbered balls that were dropped from a cherry picker onto a grassy area at Riverside Park. After dropping 350 golf balls, the Lions paid out $200 to Bob Nadeau, whose ball landed farthest away from the cup, and $300 to Brian Dubois, whose ball came second closest to the pin.  

Todd Collins, who was closest to the pin received $1,500 by “executive decision” with a cheer from the crowd, since there was no actual hole in one. Proceeds from the fundraiser are to go toward final payments on the Lions Pavilion at the park.

Roy Bernard serves up some of the worlds largest ploye, Friday afternoon at Riverside park in Fort Kent. (Don Eno)

Anglers involved in the derby were spread out from Glazier Lake all the way to Grand Isle, over the weekend. In Fort Kent, some were fishing along the shores of the St. John and Fsh rivers.

“I entered the derby, but just for fun,” said John Anderson of Easton, while fishing the Fish River near the Blockhouse.

Participants and fans from across Aroostook County and New Brunswick also gathered Saturday for At the Northern Maine Antique Tractor Club tractor pull event. Tractors of all kinds and colors competed for prize money, with drivers pushing the old machines to the max.

Local antique tractor collector Dr. John Bouchard of Fort Kent ran several of his in the competition, as did 84-year-old Perlin Bull of Washburn.

John Anderson of Easton fishes the mouth of the Fish River in Fort Kent on Saturday morning. This was Anderson’s third year fishing in the International Muskie Derby. (Don Eno)

Chamber Executive Director Dona Saucier said Sunday that the organization once considered holding the Ploye Festival apart from the Muskie Derby, but thought better of the idea.

“Fish and loaves, they’ve gone together for all time,” she joked. “They blend well together because they offer a little bit of something for everybody to do. There’s music, cultural stuff, games, fishing for the outdoorsmen — it works well together.”

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