LIBERTY, Maine — As far as fishing trips go, the 3-plus hours the Emerson family had spent on frozen, snow-covered Lake St. George on Sunday morning hadn’t been terribly productive.
Avery, 4, and her 8-year-old brother, Caiden, had yet to haul up that big “brookie,” salmon or bass that would earn them the top prize at the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands’ 3rd annual Youth Ice Fishing Derby.
Uncooperative fish aside, however, the siblings from Belfast didn’t hesitate when asked whether ice fishing was something they would try again.
“Yeah,” Avery, bundled up in a colorful snow suit, said with a nod. “It’s fun,” Caiden said.
And that’s precisely the goal of the event, which drew several hundred people to Lake St. George State Park just west of Belfast.
“We give them bait, traps, the whole nine yards so they can get a taste of what it’s all about,” Will Harris, director of the Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Lands, said Sunday while standing amid the buzz of activity on the frozen lake.
The youth ice derby is one of six family oriented events scheduled at Maine state parks this winter.
“Family Fun Days,” featuring snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, skating, nature walks and, in some cases, snowmobile “tote rides,” will be held in Cobscook Bay, Mount Blue, Fort McClary and Aroostook State Parks in January and February. Another youth ice fishing derby also will be held Feb. 25 at Range Ponds State Park.
“All of our state parks are open to the public all year long,” Harris said. “They may have a gate down, but you can walk in. We want to encourage people to get out and see what there is to do.”
Sunday’s event at Lake St. George drew a mix of veteran ice fishing families and newcomers to the sport. For those trying it out for the first time, BPL staff would dig a hole through the 10 inches of ice plus packed snow and then show the families how to bait and set the traps.
“What a great time. There are a lot of kids around,” said Justin Emerson, father of Avery and Caiden, as the trio prepared to grab some free lunch from the makeshift kitchen. “This is our first time out. We heard about the tournament four days ago and thought it was something we ought to try.”
Charlie Herrick of Northport had several grandkids in tow, including Kiana Goldberg, who was fascinated by the fish hanging on the derby board. Far from squeamish, Kiana returned to the board several times and was wide-eyed as she touched, poked and studied the fish.
“They caught their first fish this summer,” Herrick said. So when they learned about the youth derby, the family decided to check it out.
Although several families had managed to land fish by noon on Sunday — including a 2-pound bass and a nice-sized landlocked salmon — most of the derby contestants seemed content to play in the snow, eat the free food or check out the sled dog teams.
The winter family fun events are part of Maine’s “Take It Outside” initiative, which encourages children and families to explore the year-round outdoor recreation opportunities available in the state.
More information about winter events at Maine state parks is available at http://take-it-outside.com.