OAKLAND — In its 29th year, the annual Oakland Children’s Ice Fishing Frenzy broke its participation record Sunday, welcoming 231 young anglers.

It was also a bittersweet year for its founder, Eric Seekins, director of the Oakland Recreation Department. It was the last year one of Seekins’ children could compete. His youngest son, 15, will be too old next year.

Eric Seekins, director of the Oakland Recreation Department, points Sunday to the list of 1991 Oakland Childrens’ Fishing Frenzy winners posted at Atwood Elementary School. Sunday marked the event’s 29th year and drew the largest number of young participants — 231 — in its history. Morning Sentinel photo by Meg Robbins

“I’ve always enjoyed this, and I’m going to continue to enjoy every year going forward,” Seekins said Sunday as children filtered into the Atwood Elementary School to weigh their fish and see how they compared to their peers as volunteers updated the results on several large boards.

Throughout the day, children bundled up and spread out across the Belgrade Lakes with family members, attempting to reel in the biggest fish through holes in the ice.

Trophies were awarded to those who brought in the top three heaviest fish in the following categories: white perch, yellow perch, pickerel, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, black crappie, brown trout, splake, brook trout and northern pike.

There were also special prizes for the heaviest overall fish and the fish that most closely matched a pre-determined mystery weight.

By about 4 p.m., the heaviest fish was a 10.19-pound pike caught by Dominick Smith, nearly double the size of the runner-up at the time. Final results were not available before press time.

The bodies of water eligible for fishing in the event included: Messalonskee Lake, Salmon Lake, McGrath Pond, North Pond, Great Pond, East Pond and Long Pond.

Seekins said he believes the Oakland Children’s Ice Fishing Frenzy was the first kids-only ice fishing derby in Maine. He started it nearly three decades ago based on his own love of hunting and fishing.

“It’s really a family day,” Seekins said. “I love that about it. It allows people to go back to a simpler time.”

The Oakland Lions Club came on board as a sponsor from day one, Seekins said, which helped get the event off the ground in 1991. The winners of each fishing frenzy are carefully documented on posters in the gymnasium of Atwood Elementary School, dating back to the first victors in 1991.

This year’s participants gave the event rave reviews Sunday.

“We were out for eight hours, my dad said,” remarked Maggie Tibbetts, 8, of Oakland, who said she has been ice fishing since she was 3 years old.

Tatum Doucette, 12, of Sidney hauled in a 0.82-pound pickerel. While he was happy with his catch, he said he had the most fun just being out on the ice with good company.

Sarah Merrow, right, helps balance her daughter, Madison Reynolds, 9, on glare ice Sunday after Madison set her fishing trap during the 29th Annual Children’s Ice Fishing Frenzy at Messalonskee Lake in Sidney. It was Madison’s first time ice fishing. Morning Sentinel by photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

“One of (my favorite parts of the day) was skating,” Doucette said. “But hanging out with family and friends was the best.”

Doucette’s friend and Tibbetts’ brother, Grady Tibbetts, 11, agreed. While he did not catch anything, he was hardly down in the dumps. Instead, he used his ice skates as a way to salvage the day.

Kristy McNaughton said she registered her kids after her high school friend Mel Smith — principal of Williams Elementary School in Oakland — suggested the families participate in the event together.

McNaughton and her husband, Wes, brought their daughter, Emma, 4, and son, Owen, 6. Smith and her husband, Justin, brought their kids, Griffin, 5, and Charlie, 2.

“We ended up on Messalonskee Lake and didn’t end up catching anything, but honestly we had a blast,” McNaughton said. “It was a beautiful day of good wholesome family fun. The kids — and adults — got to ice skate, help with the bait and drive around on the four-wheeler.”

The Belgrade Lakes region is a popular fishing destination in the summer, but Seekins said wintertime fishing can be just as fruitful.

“To me, ice fishing gives you easier access to more spots on the water that you can’t get to otherwise,” he said. “It’s a good way to pass the time in the long Maine winter.”


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