At some point next Sunday, Greg Hawes may find time to curse his ice fishing buddies.
It was that group, after all, that helped hatch the plan that spawned the G&M Family Market Hancock County Ice Fishing Derby several years ago.
And it’s that derby, which Hawes stages and runs with a tiny crew, that has made a certain February weekend particularly hectic each year.
On second thought, Hawes might be too busy to even worry about the origination of the derby … or the role those buddies played.
“”[I was] sitting on the ice with a bunch of friends, ice-fishing, and they were talking about how they wished there was a good sized derby in the area,” Hawes explained on Wednesday, just days before the seventh edition of the event kicked off. “It seemed as if everybody turned and looked at me and said, ‘Well, you’re probably the only one who could pull this thing off.’”
One reason for their confidence: Hawes and his father co-own G&M Family Market, the virtual anchor of Holden village. If you’ve driven from Bangor to Ellsworth or Bar Harbor, or to any of the productive fishing lakes along that route, chances are good you’ve stopped by the store for snacks, groceries, gas, or fishing supplies.
This year’s two-day derby will take center stage at the bustling store on Feb. 21-22, with the weigh-in taking place under a tent in the parking lot and free food and gifts available to derby entrants on Sunday. Weigh-ins will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on both days.
After a modest beginning, Hawes said the derby has grown steadily despite its dependent on weather that’s good enough for families to commit to a day on the ice.
He says about 100 anglers took part the first year, and between 500 and 600 participated a year ago.
Anglers are allowed to fish on any legal water in Hancock County, and while the market doesn’t officially sit in that county — the boundary is a few hundred yards down the road — participants from greater Bangor will likely pass it on the way to and from their chosen lakes.
While many derbies collect substantial sponsorship money and distribute proceeds to a given charity, Hawes has taken a different course with his event.
“It’s not a typical derby because there’s no beneficiary of it,” he explained. “Everything that you see that is given away, and all costs of the derby, come out of my pocket. I just do my best to recoup the cost, and there’s nothing left to donate to somebody.”
There’s no official beneficiary, perhaps. But Hawes is still pitching in to help a couple of community groups, whether the derby pays for itself or not.
A raffle for a pair of all-terrain vehicles (one for youths, one for adults), is on tap, and any money earned after expenses are paid will be given to the Eastern Maine Snowmobile Club.
And a new competition will give a local group the chance to give some derby money to a worthwhile cause.
“I’ve implemented a new category and I really hope it takes off,” Hawes explained. “It’s for public safety departments. You can have up to five people on your team, and between all the people on your team, you have to catch a salmon and a togue. Those two weights will be added together for a total.”
Hawes said he’ll write a check for $500 in the victorious department’s name and present it to the Spruce Run-Womancare Alliance. The winning team will also earn a pizza party for their department, and will get to display a traveling trophy for the next year.
A 50-50 raffle to benefit Camp Capella will also be held, and a number of door prizes will be handed out on Sunday. The anglers who catch the largest salmon and togue will take home identical prizes: A new Jiffy ice auger, an XL Jet Sled, five Heritage ice fishing traps and a $25 Dunkin Donut gift card.
Tickets for the derby cost $15 for adults; kids fish for free.
Entries have been slowly trickling in thus far, but Hawes knows that most participants wait until the last minute to buy tickets.
“We sell 95 percent of our tickets the Friday before the derby,” he said. “We designate a [cash] register to signing up for the derby, and there will be points during the evening before the derby where you’ll have 35 or 40 people waiting in line to sign up.”
And eventually, Hawes and his small crew will have a chance to take a breath and relax. Maybe.
“Every year, I say ‘This will be my last year,’ and then when I hear feedback and people in the store start asking if [the derby] is going to happen, and start getting emails rolling in, I say, ‘OK, I’ll do it one more year.’ But I’ve been saying that for five years straight. I might be in this for the long run.”
Schoodic Derby on tap
If a Hancock County derby doesn’t include your favorite waters, you may want to consider participating in one of the state’s longest-running ice fishing events: The 53rd annual Schoodic Lake Ice Fishing Derby will take place this weekend.
The event actually includes fish caught in Ebeemee, Seboeis and Boyd Lakes, in addition to Schoodic. Tickets cost $10, and cash and prizes worth more than $15,000 are up for grabs.
Proceeds will benefit Milo Fire Department charities. For more information, or to purchase tickets, call 943-2303, send a fax to 943-2785, or go to trcmaine.org.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke