Tim Parker of Winthrop sets a trap Saturday morning on Maranacook Lake in Winthrop. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

Every year, on the third weekend in February and the first weekend in June, The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife allows people to fish for free or without a license.

According to the department, the only people who cannot fish for free are people who have had their licenses to fish suspended or revoked.

As long as fishers adhere to the state’s rules on fishing, such as bag and possession limits, people are invited to fish on any of the state’s nearly 6,000 lakes and more than 30,000 miles of rivers and streams.

On Saturday, several of Maine’s ponds and lakes hosted events to coincide with the weekend of free fishing.

At Range Pond in Poland, the New England Backcountry Hunters and Anglers organization held events throughout the morning and afternoon, including beginner ice-fishing instructions, trail exploration, and fish cleaning and cooking tips.

Tents from Baxter Brewing and Dad’s Place, a Mechanic Falls restaurant and variety store, were set up on the beach, along with a number of game wardens, who were on hand to offer people advice on how to set ice-fishing traps.

For some, the weekend of free fishing was an opportunity to pick up a hobby that had fallen by the wayside.

Ken Nason of Auburn, who was fishing Saturday afternoon with his 10-year-old son, Maddox, and a friend from work, said that he used to go ice fishing a lot when he was younger, but “life got in the way and I found myself not having as much time to do it.”

“I think it’s a great idea, this free fishing weekend,” Nason said, adding that it gave his son a chance to experience ice fishing for the first time.

“I felt that (Maddox) was about the right age to see what ice fishing was all about, and he’s liked it so far,” Nason said.

He said ice-fishing trapping methods have “changed a little bit since the last time I went.”

“I went on YouTube before we came out to look up some tips on setting traps,” Nason said. “There were game wardens on the beach to show us how to set traps. It was helpful.”

Other fishers said that they would have gone ice fishing Saturday, with or without the benefit of free fishing weekend.

Peter Mathieu of Norway said he started ice fishing when he was 8 years old, and ever since, it has become a staple of his winters.

“I started out with these inexpensive traps when I was young, and once I figured out what I liked, I upgraded to jack traps and fancier things,” he said.

Every year, Mathieu said, he goes on a five-day fishing excursion with seven friends.

“We’ve done it every year for eight years,” Mathieu said. “We go to Brassua Lake (in northern Somerset County) or Moosehead Lake and just fish for a week.”

Mathieu said his love of ice fishing has rubbed off on his stepson, Bryce Hodge.

“Oh, he likes it,” Mathieu said. “This free fishing weekend is good for kids who want to get into ice fishing.”

While Mathieu spends an equal length of time fishing in the summer as he does ice fishing, he finds ice fishing “more rewarding.”

“It’s harder to set yourself up when ice fishing,” Mathieu said. “You have to always be checking your poles and your bait. Sure, you have to fight the cold a little bit, but it makes it that much more rewarding when you catch something.”

Some people, including Angela Gagnon and her son, Tyler, stumbled upon the free fishing events by chance.

“We were on some of the trails around here and happened to come upon all of this,” Gagnon said, gesturing at the ice fishers and tents. “It’s pretty cool what they have going on here.”

At Pennesseewassee Lake in Norway, Michael Bonang, Jason Bilodeau, Emerson Brown, and David Dingley — all members of the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School football team — organized a fishing derby Saturday afternoon that served jointly as a senior project and a team fundraiser.

Senior Bonang said that whomever caught the largest fish would be rewarded with either an ice-fishing jet sled or a $100 Cabela’s gift card.

Bilodeau, also a senior, said he and the rest of the team felt that the fishing derby was “something fun and new to do for the team, and a good way to give back to the community.”

In Winthrop, ice fishers were invited to compete at the Bartenders Ice Fishing Derby, where cash prizes were awarded for the biggest togue, brook trout and salmon.

The fishing derby was held in memory of Lee St. Hilaire and Carlene Steele, who passed away in 2004 and 2015, respectively.

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An ice fishing trap is set and awaits a bite Saturday morning on Maranacook Lake in Winthrop. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Maranacook Lake in Winthrop was buzzing with activity Saturday morning. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Chrystal and Tim Parker, of Winthrop, keep an eye on their ice fishing traps Saturday morning on Maranacook Lake in Winthrop. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

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