Anglers will flock to Great Pond in Aurora on Jan. 20 and enjoy a day of fishing, competition and camaraderie for a cause.

The 8th annual House in the Woods Ice Fishing Derby benefits the Lee-based House in the Woods, which provides outdoor-oriented trips to veterans and their families. According to past BDN reports, House in the Woods is a nonprofit organization that was formed by Bill Emery and Quie Emery and Paul House and Deanna House, couples from Lee who lost sons to war.

House in the Woods serves as a tribute to U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division Sgt. Joel House and U.S. Army Sgt. Blair Emery, each of whom died in Iraq in 2007.

Paul House said providing outdoor opportunities for others seemed like a perfect mission for the organization.

“My son loved to hunt and fish, he loved to canoe and kayak. He bought his own canoe and kayak when he was in high school. He loved going out in the woods and walking around. He just liked being outside,” Paul House said. “I thought, ‘What better [thing than] to bring vets and active duty military here and share that experience with them. And it is a great healing venue for them, being out in the woods.”

On Jan. 20, both military and civilian anglers are invited to the Great Pond Rec Center on Dow Pines Road in Aurora, which will host the eighth edition of the House in the Woods derby.

“Last year we had about 400 people. The weather was good and the ice was good,” House said. “And the ice looks good this year. I’m guessing they must have 14, 15 inches.”

House said the angler who catches the biggest brown trout will win an ice auger, while a muzzleloader will go to the person who catches the biggest bass. Catch the toop pickerel and you’ll take home a pack basket and some ice fishing traps.

In addition, raffle tickets will be sold for a number of shore prizes.

“It’s just a great family time for people to come out,” House said. “And if someone doesn’t have an ice shack and they want to get warm, they can inside and get warm and get something to eat in the rec room.”

House in the Woods has been working on its new office and clubhouse complex in Lee for the past few years, and has built a reputation of providing top-notch recreational opportunities for veterans and active-duty military personnel. Some of those vets have been wounded in combat, while others have not. Each person stays in Maine for free, and guiding and other services are provided free of cost.

“We’ve served between 80 and 100 people for the past few years, and next year I think we’re going to be serving more,” House said. “We do bear hunts, turkey, partridge, and we had a couple of moose hunts this year.”

In addition, House hopes to begin offering cross-country skiing and snowshoeing as winter options for guests.

“We try to add something each year,” House said. “We’ve had vets come from 25 different states so far.”

And when those vets get here, they’re free to unwind and appreciate the rejuvenating power of the Maine woods.

“Harvesting the animal is just a bonus. The camaraderie is the big thing,” House said. “When the vets get together, they share things, and then the healing process takes place. It’s very effective.”

For more information about the House in the Woods Ice Fishing Derby, call Judy Manzo at 584-2000.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...