As high noon approached on a gorgeous Saturday, Kylie Dow took time out from ice fishing on Pickerel Pond to show off the biggest fish she’d ever caught.
“I was playing, and then since I never got a fish before, my mom said that I was going to be the next one to catch a fish,” the 7-year-old angler said. “And then I saw [the flag], and it was really hard [to land the fish], so I had my brother help me and he helped me pull it out.”
Kylie and her brother, 10-year-old Colton Dow, ended up with a tag-team catch they’ll remember for a long time: The hefty brook trout measured 17 inches long, and likely pushed four pounds.
The Dows and a couple of friends headed to Pickerel Pond and Maine’s Youth Fish and Game Association clubhouse on what has become one of the most popular days of the year. Saturday was this year’s date for the annual children’s ice fishing day.
All a kid had to do was show up. The traps, bait and instruction were provided, adults drilled all the holes, and hot dogs and snacks were available free of charge.
“Today’s been a very good turnout,” club president Jim Redding said. “It seems like for our winter ice-fishing event we have an excellent turnout.”
By midday the turnout was more than 100 anglers, plus the adults who accompanied them to T32 MD, about 10 miles from downtown Milford.
Matt Dunlap of Old Town, who now serves as Maine’s secretary of state, was one of the MYFGA’s founders and still serves on its board of directors. He was among the early risers who learned they hadn’t risen nearly early enough for the big day.
“We advertised [the event as starting] at 8 o’clock, and we figured we’d get out here at quarter to seven or so and start drilling holes,” Dunlap said. “[We] already had 10 or 15 people out here with their kids, fishing, that early in the morning. They were really hitting them hard this morning. It was great. A lot of fish.”
After the early flurry — Dunlap said 4- to 4½-pound retired brood stock brook trout were caught — anglers and their families occupied their time with other activities.
Dunlap said the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife stocked 300 yearling brook trout that were about 12 inches long, as well as some larger brood stock fish.
Colton Dow and his pal, 9-year-old Liam Casey, tended flags when necessary, but spent a lot of time skating around on a makeshift hockey rink they’d created by shoveling away snow.
Casey also had a hefty trout to show off, while Colton Dow had caught several sizeable pickerel.
“I pulled the trap and set the hook and just started pulling it in, and I got it out [of the water],” Casey said, describing his fishing technique.
Elsewhere, some adults took turns hauling children on sleds behind ATVs or snowmobiles, while other kids headed for the woods and slid down steep hills onto the pond.
Dunlap said the club founders began with modest goals for the MYFGA, which were quickly exceeded.
We started talking about this in ’98, ’99, and then in 2001 we incorporated as the Maine Youth Fish and Game Association, thinking that if we worked really hard and were really lucky, maybe in 20 or 30 years we could have a small facility or something like that,” Dunlap said. “And the community just jumped into it.”
International Paper donated the land, Northern Log Homes donated the materials for the handsome clubhouse, and the donations haven’t stopped pouring in.
Now, the MYFGA serves as a base for all kinds of outdoor events, including winter camping expeditions, summer camps and its popular winter and summer fishing days.
“We’re getting almost to 10 years that we’ve been doing this kind of event,” Dunlap said. “We have hundreds of kids come out and the membership fee for a kid under 16 is a dollar a year. We don’t turn anybody away.”
Upon arrival at Pickerel Pond, children quickly learn that they’ve got a place all their own.
There are adults present, of course, but all of the fishing is done by kids. Nobody over the age of 16 is allowed to wet a line, ever.
In addition, helpful volunteers are everywhere, helping those who need a hand.
For Redding, events like Saturday’s continue to prove that club founders had a good idea that has continued to flourish — over time.
“Word is catching on that Maine Youth Fish and Game has a good time out here in the winter and the crowd proves it,” Redding said. “It’s a good time for all, the adults and kids. I think we have as much fun as they do.”