LIVERMORE — Vehicles were parked on both sides of Route 4 near Round Pond in a mile-long stretch and the ice-packed lake was littered with pop-up huts and ice fishing traps as fishermen turned out en masse Saturday for the HollandStrong Fishing Derby.

The event was organized to raise money for a scholarship in memory of Michael Holland, the 25-year-old Wilton mariner who died when the cargo ship the El Faro sank Oct. 1 near the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin with all 33 crew members aboard.

The derby had everything Holland would have loved, his relatives and friends said — lots of sun, fishing, drinks and fun.

“He would have been the first one down here,” said John Yankura, one of Holland’s childhood friends and an event organizer.

More than 600 anglers signed up for the derby, but crowds on the ice surged to more than 1,000, Yankura said, about twice the number of people he and co-organizer Curtis Cloutier had expected to show up.

The event drew locals who knew Holland, and also people from farther away, including his classmates from Maine Maritime Academy. Fishermen on four-wheel all-terrain vehicles sped up to the measuring booth to unload big brown trout pulled out of the lake, and groups of people clustered around fire pits on the ice joked and laughed.

Although they were committed to hold the derby, Yankura said he and Cloutier were worried that thin ice might force them to cancel. Other ice fishing derbies this weekend were canceled over concerns that the ice wouldn’t be safe enough because of recent warm weather and rain.

Those concerns evaporated when they went out Friday to drill test holes and found the whole pond was covered with 14 to 16 inches of ice, Yankura said.

“It was a huge relief,” he added. The safe ice, beautiful weather and the fact that two of Holland’s close friends were in the lead for the longest trout contest by Saturday afternoon convinced him that Holland was there in spirit, Yankura said.

“I think Mike was with us today, for sure,” he said.

Ron Holland, Michael Holland’s father, said his son would have loved the derby.

“As long as he had water under him, he was good,” Ron Holland said. “That’s where he spent most of his time.” His son was an avid fisherman, hunter and was fond of driving, Holland added.

The $5 derby entrance fee was going to the HollandStrong Memorial Scholarship, to be given to graduating high school seniors from Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, Spruce Mountain High School in Jay and Leavitt Area High School in Turner who are entering a degree program in engineering or vocational trade.

Cloutier estimated that they had raised $3,000 from the entrance fees, not including sales of commemorative T-shirts for the event. A morning raffle of ice fishing traps and other gear brought in more money, and people gathered around in mid-morning for a toast to Holland’s memory with beer and coffee brandy from sponsors Central Maine Distributors and M.S. Walker.

Holland was one of four Mainers and Maine Maritime graduates who were killed when the El Faro sank, including its captain, Michael Davidson, of Windham. The U.S.-flagged ship was making its way from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico when it sank. A U.S. Coast Guard panel investigating the accident held a 10-day hearing that ended Friday and included testimony by officials from Tote Services, the company that owned the El Faro.

Holland’s friends and relatives said Saturday that they knew about the hearings and investigation, but they were more interested in commemorating his life.

Deborah Roberts, Holland’s mother, said she watched the first day of the hearings, on Feb. 16, but turned her attention to helping organize the derby and set up the scholarship in her son’s memory. She held up a long-sleeve T-shirt with “HollandStrong” emblazoned on the sleeve and the slogan “Every day is a Saturday” on the back, around the design of a fist clenching a fish by the tail. It was her son’s favorite thing to say when he was home from sea, Roberts said.

“I just have other things to focus on,” Roberts said, when asked if she was following the Coast Guard investigation.

“If they can do something to make the maritime industry safer, that’s great, but it won’t bring Michael back,” she said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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