KENNEBUNK – Dan Dykstra couldn’t wait to wade into the cold water of the Mousam River. So he asked fellow fisherman Kevin McKay to pull over for a taste of the brown trout fishery after they drove down from Bangor last weekend. And didn’t the Old Town fisherman get into a mess of brown trout?
The next day at dawn alongside other eager fly fishermen, Dykstra willingly waded back into the ice-cold water to hook more than a dozen trout, including one 18 inches long.
You’d think this was the April or May hatch season.
Welcome to Maine’s annual Freeze Up, the gathering of fly fishermen who kick off the year together doing what they love best.
Every January for nine years, these guys have gathered in the dead of winter — some from as far as New York and Connecticut — for a veritable fly-and-casting convention beside one of Maine’s year-round fisheries.
The fishing is the crazy piece, but really secondary to the gathering on shore, where talk is about egg sandwiches, salmon, conservation and cigars. It evolved out of one guide’s desire to say thank you.
In 2004, fishing website administrator Kevin McKay and a couple friends wanted to celebrate the new year fishing. That first year, a half dozen showed at the banks of the Presumpscot River. The next year, 10 showed, and pretty soon the count was over 20 for the annual event.
McKay continued the tradition to thank the fishing community for turning his fishing forum (www.Maineflyfish.com) into a buzz word.
“So many people have come to the website and made it better,” McKay said.
This year’s Freeze Up had as many as 70 show throughout the day. But even two years ago in a blizzard, 35 came to fish.
“This is the most. Right now there are more than 20 guys fishing on the river,” said McKay as he looked up and down the Mousam’s winding bends.
McKay and Jim Bernstein from Eldredge Bros. Fly Shop in Cape Neddick offer a free breakfast spread, drawings for prizes and a casting contest for a new rod.
No professionals are allowed in the casting competition, and past winners can’t compete.
“The best casters blow it. The pressure is too much. I make everyone enter. I go around and tell them. Then I tell the kids the tricks,” McKay said.
This year the competition was won by Sam Kenney, 12, of Dixmont, which made for a perfect Freeze Up ending.
Kenney came to learn from the older fishermen.
“He started fly fishing at seven and a half,” said Ellen Gronlie, who watched her son cast from a park bench. “There are so many kind people here. They’re so helpful. They share their knowledge. Now Sam actually teaches us, me and my husband.”
Other youngsters showed up to learn through osmosis.
Seth Greene, 20, of Kennebunk and Cooper Nunan, 15, of Arundel, caught their first fish on a fly rod after McKay showed them where to cast. Greene plans to keep fishing some of the year-round rivers, even when the weather turns cold.
“We’re from Maine,” he shrugged.
Erik Wisniewski, 15, of Salisbury, Mass., drove up with his father to learn from the guides who lined the river.
“I wanted to meet up with great people. To hear their stories. These guys know a lot, and there is a willingness to share,” said Wisniewski.
Alan Lindberg came from Gray to do just that. Lindberg is not a guide, but he is one of the Freeze Up founders, a 53-year fly fisherman known for giving his flies away to novices.
Having scanned the busy river, Lindberg was happy to leave early for a grandchild’s birthday. The Freeze Up tradition, he said, will continue.
“I’m not in the first photo, because I took it,” said Lindberg. “That fist year it was so cold out I told my wife to drive by (the Presumpscot River) and see if they were there. And she said, ‘Yeah, there’s a guy with a red pickup with a grill in the back.’
“But this here is the best yet. Look at all the fishermen — as far as the eye can see.”
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: