Harrison Winter Fest features premiere Youth Ice Fishing Derby

HARRISON — The Harrison Winter Fest coming up on Friday through Sunday, Feb. 25-27, has been an ongoing event for a number of years. Held during the February school vacation week, the event each year allows for winter visitors and their families to enjoy a number of local events that are fun for the whole family.

The Youth Family Ice Fishing Derby on Saturday and Sunday at the Winter Fest has grown to a great success, and is slowly becoming, under the radar, a premiere youth ice-fishing derby.

Harrison Recreation Director Paula J. Holt is ordinarily a “committee of one” as she organizes children’s events all year long. Holt is grateful for the volunteers that show up and help when the event takes place.

“No matter how much an event is organized, it won’t happen without the volunteers who unselfishly donate their time to help at the event,” said Holt.

Paula has an ace in the hole with the Winter Fest’s Youth Family Ice Fishing Derby. Local Registered Maine Guide Joe Jack took the position of derby coordinator for last year’s derby, and has taken up the reins again this year. Jack has had his guide license for many years, and in those years he has made many friends in the fishing and hunting community of Maine.

He has called on these friends to help support the Harrison derby, with a different approach than most derby solicitations. He states to his fellow guides, to bait and tackle owners, members of fish and game clubs and the state’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department that the Harrison Fishing Derby is designed to get children on the ice that normally wouldn’t have the chance.

“They are our next generation, who will carry on with fishing and conservation after we’re gone,” said Jack. “When we first started, we had an idea that we needed to make the derby affordable for families.”

The problem, he said, was that Maine law requires that an adult age 16 or older is required to have a valid Maine Inland Fishing License. That creates a problem with making the derby affordable, since the registration for children is $2 and adults $5, but an out of state visitor would need to obtain a three-day fishing license at a cost of $25 for the weekend.

Jack had an idea. He’d had some dealings with an old friend, Charlie Mann of Winthrop (“One of the best streamer fly tiers in the country,” said Jack), who started a program back in the late 80s early 90s called “Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs” as a volunteer program to promote youth fishing. Jack recalled that IF&W sanctions two events each year known as open fishing days, when no license is required to fish and take the fish caught.

He called Mann, who put him in touch with Emily Jones, director of the Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs Program.  “I contacted Emily, explained what I was looking to do, which was have IF&W sanction the Harrison Ice Fishing Derby, and my reason was to get more children on the ice, and the sanction would allow parents to participate without the added cost of $25. She never said it, but I believe she thought I was out of my mind.”

Jack conversed with Jones via e-mail and Internet for a month or so, and eventually Jones took a chance and came through with what Jack says is, to the best of his knowledge, the first entire Derby sanction outside of the IF&W Free Fishing Days.

“We were off,” said Jack. “We started by promoting the derby locally with the focus on a family and youth fishing derby. The success was beyond our wildest imagination, we went from 22 children the previous year, to 66 children, but more importantly, we had 33 adults sign up under the sanction. Those 33 adults, to me, allowed an additional 33 children to participate in the derby that wouldn’t have had the chance if the IF&W sanction wasn’t in place.”

Holt said it wasn’t long before the derby worked its way right up to being the premier event of the Winter Fest.

“It was incredible to see parents that have been involved in other recreation activities participating in the derby, people I never would have thought would,” said Holt. “The children had a great time; the donations we received allowed each registered child to receive an initial gift bag or bait and bucket.”

When Holt and Jack gave out the prize awards at the town office last year, it was not only fun, she said, but also somewhat emotional.

“All those children having their names called and receiving their prize for the work they did in the derby was just plain great, and made all the time put into organizing the derby worth every minute.”

Jack recalls telling Holt to just wait until next year.

“Well, next year is here, we have already secured our sanction, which is the key to the derby,” he said. “We also have a number of single raffles, which value from $25 to $300, but the multiple raffle has grown to almost 100 items.”

The multiple raffles will be drawn every hour, beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, so Jack recommends participants buy their tickets early. There will be a drawing every hour after that until everything is gone.

The major addition to this year’s derby is the Sportsmen Show that will be held all weekend at the town office.  This is a dual opportunity for the Winter Fest participants, who will get to meet the behind-the-scenes individuals whose generous donations and time make the derby a success. The individuals who made donations and put in their personal time to assure the derby’s success include local guides of Lake Region Outfitters (Jack), Rocky Ridge Guide Service (Carl Bois), along with representatives from Western Maine Fish & Game, Sebago Lake Anglers, the local National Rifle Association, Friendly Riders Snowmobile Club, R.G. Johnson’s Skiing and Outdoor Recreation, Naples Bait & Tackle, Unc’l Lunkers Bait & Tackle of Bridgton and Sebago Bait & Tackle of Casco.

As a special treat, Gene Bahr will be on hand to show off his wildlife display and artwork. Bahr is a well-known wildlife artist, woodcarver and taxidermist who will have something there for anyone’s camp, and also a wood carving that hasn’t been assembled yet.

“This year’s derby is shaping up to be larger than last year’s, with more events surrounding all outside family activities,” said Holt. “It is becoming very exciting for us.”

Holt and Jack hope to see everyone at the Harrison Winter Fest and Youth Family Ice Fishing Derby. Pre-registration is available at the Harrison Town Office, Market Basket and Village Tie-Up. For additional information visit the Harrison town website at www.harrisonmaine.org

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