Ruby Beane (right) ice fishes while friend Sam Wingard checks out the action below at the Penobscot County Conservation Association's annual kids fishing day in Brewer on Sunday. Credit: John Holyoke / BDN

When the fishing is good, and the flags on your ice fishing traps are flying, there are few better ways to spend a day on a pond or lake. But when the fish aren’t even nibbling the bait you’re offering, it’s a good idea to have an alternative plan.

That was the case at the Penobscot County Conservation Association’s annual kids fishing day on Sunday, and while not many fish were being caught, the young anglers didn’t seem to care much at all.

On the edge of Levasseur Pond, Matthew Hirtle and his friend, Michael McGinn, took turns tossing balls of crusty snow to Min, a labradoodle that belongs to association member Woody Higgins.

As fast as the boys could gather up another chunk of snow and toss it aloft, Min would respond, chasing and catching dozens and dozens of snowballs before leaving to find another youngster to entertain.

“[This dog] is here every year,” Hirtle said. “I think it likes this.”

Min the dog catches an ice chunk tossed by Matthew Hirtle (foreground) and Michael McGinn at a Kids Ice Fishing Day sponsored by the Penobscot County Conservation Association on Sunday. Credit: John Holyoke / BDN

Hirtle and his dad, Dave, have been coming to the annual event for a few years now, and Dave Hirtle said the festivities always take a similar shape.

“They come for the fishing, and they stay for the dog,” he said with a chuckle.

At 9:30 a.m. — a half hour after the event began — about 50 people were spread across the two-acre expanse of Levasseur Pond, where the Penobscot County Conservation Association had drilled ice-fishing holes and helped set up fishing traps. Anglers largely stuck to their family groups, and had plenty of room to socially distance themselves from others.

Near one shore, Ruby Beane attached a minnow to her hook and jigged it up and down, hoping to attract the attention of one of the brook trout that were stocked last fall. Sunday was Beane’s 12th birthday, and her dad said she knew exactly how she wanted to spend the day.

“She was really tickled when I told her we were coming,” Greg Beane said. “She’d been asking to go ice fishing. This was perfect.”

Greg Beane said his children have expressed an interest in ice fishing, but he hasn’t invested in the necessary equipment to stage their own outings on frozen lakes yet.

“These kids ice-fishing days have been a great opportunity for them. What a great way to get some time outside,” he said.

A large crowd of ice anglers gathered on Levasseur Pond at the Penobscot County Conservation Association clubhouse in Brewer for a Kids Ice Fishing Day on Sunday. Credit: John Holyoke / BDN

The Penobscot County Conservation Association provides traps, bait and food during the event, and although the club does accept donations, participants aren’t required to pay anything to attend.

The event had been originally scheduled for a week earlier, but was postponed due to cold weather in the forecast. Sunday’s weather couldn’t have been better, with the temperature hovering around 30 degrees in bright sun, and with very little wind.

Jim Fahey, an association member who helped organize the first kids fishing day eight or nine years ago, said he was happy to see everyone having fun outdoors.

“It’s been a success. Today, the fish aren’t overly cooperative, but the weather has been,” Fahey said. “The guarantee of fresh air and exercise? That’s being met. Kids are playing with dogs, they’re sliding down the crusty hillside, and they’re spending time with their friends and family.

“There’s a little something for everybody, and it’s a good lesson that fishing isn’t always about catching fish. It’s about being outside and spending time with good friends and family. The fish are considered by most people to be a bonus.”

At about 11 a.m., the chow call came, as a Penobscot County Conservation Association member walked onto the ice of the tiny pond and bellowed, “Hot dogs are ready!”

That was just what some families had been waiting for, as a semi-stampede ensued, with children leading their parents off the pond and up the hill, where an early lunch awaited.

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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...