VASSALBORO — Participating in the annual fishing derby is a longtime tradition for Dan Rodrigue and his extended family.

He and seven other family members set up shop on Webber Pond at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning with tents, sleds and ice fishing traps as part of the Vassalboro Business Association’s annual Ice Fishing Derby & Raffle.

With him Sunday was wife Jennifer Rodrigue, son Adam, son-in-law Isaac Shepherd, and granddaughters Naomi, 12, and Sophia, 9, and sister-in-law Sue McMullen and James McMullen.

The derby is a decades-long fundraising tradition to benefit the community.

Tory Hemphill holds son Maverick, 2, as the boy’s mother, Heather, tightens up his snow boots before the family participates Sunday in the Vassalboro Business Association’s annual Ice Fishing Derby & Raffle at Webber Pond in Vassalboro. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Organizers Samantha Lessard and Ray Breton said that the Vassalboro Business Association has spearheaded the effort for around five years. Prior to that, the Vassalboro Fire Department hosted the event for about 4 decades, they said.

“All the money we raise goes right back to the community,” Breton said. “(Vassalboro Business Association) is fairly new and it really picked up about five years ago. We do a lot with the community, like the Christmas Tree Lighting, Easter Festival and the Double Dam Duck Derby.”

Turnout was light at this year’s derby by mid-afternoon, he added, but all 4,000 raffle tickets had been sold.

“We’ve had less of a turnout this year because of everything going on,” Breton said. “Everybody holds off until the end of weigh-in. There’s been a lot of people behind the scenes helping to make it all happen.”

Tory Hemphill holds son Maverick, 2, Sunday as they use a snowmobile to move fishing gear to Webber Pond to participate in the Vassalboro Business Association’s annual Ice Fishing Derby & Raffle in Vassalboro. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The weigh-in was set up at the Olde Mill Place from 1 to 5 p.m. Participants must have caught the fish the day of the derby from any legal inland waters. Fish were judged in 11 different categories and a children under 12 and cash prizes were awarded to the winners.

“We’ve been doing this (derby) for at least 20 years,” Rodrigue said. “We’ve been fishing longer than that but doing it as a family for about 25 years.”

The difference this year, he added, was the timing and the circumstances. In previous years, they’ve had up to 45 family members join in on the festivities.

“As far as the derby goes, a lot have been canceled because of COVID-19,” Rodrigue said. “This year we got a late start because of the ice conditions. This is our first time bringing the kids with us this season.”

As they waited for flags to raise on the traps, the group shared snacks, sled rides and played UNO cards throughout the day.

“One thing we do not do is go hungry,” Rodrigue said. “If we’re not catching fish we’re eating.”

Between the eight of them, the group had set up 23 traps by mid-morning. By the time they cleared the ice around 4 p.m. and headed to weigh in, three fish had been caught: a yellow perch and large mouth bass, caught by Sue McMillan and a black crappie caught by Naomi Shepherd.

Shepherd’s catch of the day won her a third place title in the black crappie category.

“We had a great day,” Rodrigue said.

The big award of the day was for the largest fish; the winner received a trophy along with $100. This year, Kamryn Turner took home the award, catching a 5.65 pound large mouth bass.

Lessard did not have an exact number on the money raised by press time, though based on the sale of the raffle tickets alone, the number was around $4,000.

“It’s a fun family event,” Lessard said. “We really encourage families to spend time together and do things together.”

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