Thousands turned out for the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club's 2017 Spring Sportsman's Show. In the foreground is the popular fishing pond setup, which lets fishermen (of all ages) catch and release fish. The club has canceled its show this spring for the third year in a row due to COVID-19 concerns. Credit: Courtesy of Presque Isle Fish and Game Club

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — COVID-19 has dashed the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club’s plans for its spring outdoor show for the third year in a row.

The club is the second of Maine’s three major sportsmen’s shows to cancel, with the Penobscot County Conservation Association making a similar announcement that it has canceled the Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show, an event held in Orono for more than 80 years.

As of Wednesday, the State of Maine Sportsman’s Show in Augusta was still scheduled for April 1-3.

At 350 members, the Presque Isle club is one of the largest fish and game groups in Maine and aims to be a community service organization, using funds to send area youth to camp, provide hunter safety courses and help sponsor the Aroostook River Fun Run, an annual canoe and kayak race. With the loss of its major fundraiser for the third year in a row, the group has had to rethink some of its operations, according to club member and past president Nick Archer, chairman of the sportsmen’s show.

“I think the biggest thing is we’ve been conservative and understanding of our situation, so we’ve been able to keep the lights on,” Archer said.

By managing finances and maintaining income from raffles, the annual hunter’s breakfast, clubhouse rentals and weekend skeet shooting, among other efforts, Archer said the club has built a cushion so it can carry on through the pandemic.

In addition to online raffles, the members have discussed offering take-out dinners and smaller events at their Parsons Road clubhouse. They will continue their annual hunters breakfast in November, as well, which has been held nearly continuously since 1947.

The club voted to cancel the show at its Jan. 18 meeting, two days after the Penobscot association canceled its event. Spikes in COVID-19 cases were a major factor, on behalf of participants as well as attendees.

“There were also vendor concerns, so we couldn’t sell the floor totally out,” Archer said. “And we weren’t convinced we were going to get a turnout that would warrant the expense.”

The event was held for 20 consecutive years until the pandemic struck. The Penobscot County Conservation Association show would have marked its 82nd year. The cancellations reflect what many organizations are facing, Archer said.

The show normally brings in close to 4,000 visitors from around the state and beyond, and Archer said it is one of the largest weekend events in Aroostook County. The club partners with the Kiwanis Club of Presque Isle, which hosts a trade show that same weekend.

He attributed the event’s popularity in large part to two factors: it’s a family-oriented show with activities for children, and organizers stick to the basics: hunting, fishing, trapping and the outdoors.

“People who come say they don’t see anywhere else a show like our show is organized, involving the whole family. A lot of kids come to our fish pond,” Archer said.

The club has already reserved the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Gentile Hall for the Spring Sportsmen’s Show in March 2023. Members plan the show throughout the year, sending mailings out in the fall and continually seeking new vendors and displays.

“We have to thank the university for being very flexible and understanding. They recognize the value and importance of this show and we have a great partnership with them,” Archer said. “We want to thank everybody and ask them to be patient. We’re coming back.”