March 03, 2009 -
CASCO -- As the hot air balloon jumped toward the sky, small fishermen hurrying to their ice fishing holes on Thomas Pond below were too busy to notice.
At the third annual Sebago Kid's Derby on the Casco pond, the event drew its biggest crowd ever last Friday.
With 565 youths entered in the fishing fest, derby officials estimate there were easily as many as 2,000 fishing fans on the ice and a whole lot of ice fishermen looking for flags to fly.
Many believe it is the generosity of the event that draws record numbers each year.
The event provides young ice fishermen with free fishing equipment, free bait, even free fish stocked in the lake – and makes it a no-fuss experience with volunteers who help.
Steve Winger of Scarborough relished being able to take his girls to a fishing event packed with so many small anglers.
"Having that many people, it was almost a carnival atmosphere," Winger said. "The kids love that kind of thing."
And they did. After the event, both the Winger girls said they wanted to go ice fishing again with their father.
"We only caught one fish. That was kind of the down part," said Julie Winger, 9. "But the balloon was very fun. And we get to do it with our dad. And he makes it very fun."
Kerry Winger, 5, enjoyed playing on the pond more than catching fish, but she still said she wanted to go ice fishing again.
"We slip and slide on the black ice," she said.
Steve Winger, who grew up ice fishing, said it is the exposure to outdoor sports at an early age that builds a lifelong passion for recreating in the cold and snow, and that's healthy.
That's why Bob Burns of Gorham took his three children to the youth derby.
"In general, I think it's really important that we try to impart to our kids a love of the outdoors," Burns said. "That's what the state of Maine is all about."
Burns' family never actually caught a fish until after the derby. But Burns, an avid fisherman, said that was beside the point.
He also said having other kids catching fish at every turn was key to making it fun for his children.
Every year, Sebago Derby organizers limit the number of entrants in the Sebago Kid's Derby to 500, but each year more and more want to fish in the event, said derby founder and director Tom Noonan.
"We tried to limit it to 500, but we wound up giving out 565 traps this year," Noonan said. "If you just took them out alone, they'd get bored out of their skull. Here, every fish that gets caught has an audience of 10 to 20 kids."
Many believe getting children out in the cold and wind to ice fish is not tough.
At the Standish Recreation Department, ice fishing classes for youths are offered and taken, although not as many signed up this year.
Linda Brooks, director of the department, said whenever the equipment is given away for free, as it is in the Sebago Kid's Derby, parents tend to be more interested in signing up their children.
"We've seen a decline in numbers ... from our perspective, it's the economy that seems to be hitting folks. Some of the little extra (events that cost money), they aren't taking advantage of," Brooks said.
The benefit of having a large free kids' derby year after year is that children get to explore their love of the age-old sport and expand on that knowledge.
"This year was more enjoyable. Not that it wasn't the previous year, but the second time it made more sense," said Bob Sheaff of Haverhill, Mass., who owns a camp on Sebago Lake and fished in the derby with his children. "The second time, the weather was better, and they did better. They caught five perch and one bass."
Noonan said the Sebago Kid's Derby will continue, and will likely continue to have some kind of cap to maintain the quality of the carnival-like event.
"My personal preference is to duplicate it in other parts of the state, rather than growing it in Casco," Noonan said. "I think if it plays well in Casco, it should play well in York County. I'm not going to move it, but I encourage other people in other parts of the state to."
By DEIRDRE FLEMING, Staff Writer, Portland Press Herald, February 26, 2009
Lakes: Thomas Pond
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