POLAND — It wasn’t hard for park ranger Adam McKay to make the case to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands to keep Range Pond State Park open in the winter.

“It was the ice fishing community that did it,” said McKay, an ice fisherman himself. “After we started the Kids’ Derby in 2008, the fishermen started using it. When that gate is locked it’s a mile walk in. They’d pull their sleds through the snow the whole way to come fish the lake.”

Since 2014, the park has had a winter caretaker, groomed Nordic skiing and snowshoeing trails – and even fishing equipment to rent. The annual Kids’ Derby, which will be held Saturday, is a big draw, but the park also has become a haven for ice fishermen of all ages.

Moe Drouin, Dan Vachon and Dave Flynn started ice fishing at the park three years ago along with a half dozen other regulars. For the three retirees, it’s a great place to fish for brown trout that can be 18 inches in length. Just as important, it’s a good halfway point for them to share adventures from another time.

Drouin and Vachon met five years ago while ice fishing at Middle Range Pond. As Vachon tells the story, Drouin came by a spot where Vachon was catching fish and asked to fish there. The next day, Vachon came back to the spot and saw Drouin once more. They have fished together ever since.

“We hit it off,” said Vachon, 67, with an infectious smile.

Then three years ago, Drouin was fishing at Crystal Lake in Gray when he saw Flynn fishing. It was a chance to reconnect.

“We used to fish together in high school when we went to Lewiston High School,” said Drouin, 76. “He was a football star. I played hockey. But I wasn’t a star. We both went into the service at Fort Dix, then lost touch.”

Now on most good days, the three are inseparable. And on his days off, McKay enjoys fishing with them.

Lower Range Pond has bass and pickerel but is primarily a stocked fishery, receiving 300 hatchery brown trout every year as well as 500 brook trout before the Kids’ Derby.

However, McKay and the three fishermen said they’ve caught browns smaller than the hatchery fish, which are 15- to 18-inches long, so they think there are wild trout in the pond.

The retired men help the ranger with the Kids’ Derby, which draws hundreds of youth learning to ice fish. Last year, Flynn cleaned more than 100 fish. The three Maine natives enjoy giving back to the sport they’ve enjoyed for more than a half century. And they generously share their secrets with others they meet.

Just don’t expect them to share those secrets with the public.

“Don’t write that down,” said Drouin after confiding what they use for bait.

“You’ve got to think outside the box. My father was very methodical in everything he did. Not me. You gotta think outside the box.”

It does not take long before Drouin is going back in time to when he helped shape the Maine Bowhunters Association tournaments, or when he built a bow-hunting tree stand before tree stands were sold, or when he helped automate lighthouses for the U.S. Coast Guard 40 years ago.

But Drouin and Vachon are quick to explain it’s Flynn who is notable. He worked for the late philanthropist Harold Alfond, who created a foundation that has given millions to Maine hospitals and schools.

“His name is on so many things,” said Flynn, 75. “But what people don’t know, he gave so much without anyone knowing.”

Drouin landed two brook trout in the first hour of fishing – firmly dispelling his claim that he is a jinx – but not a flag flew for the next two hours. These guys didn’t care.

“Do you want to pull up a camp chair and join us?” Drouin said.

As Flynn and Drouin sat comfortably on the lake swapping deer-hunting tactics, Vachon went from trap to trap checking the bait.

The three fishermen looked like they couldn’t be happier, gathered on a frozen lake surrounded by pine trees, swapping remarkable tales.

They had dragged sleds full of traps, pack baskets, bait and chairs across the lake. But as they reminisced about moments from 40 and even 60 years ago, it was clear the ice-fishing gear was merely a means to an end.

“I think it’s neat,” Drouin said. “Dave is willing to travel all the way from Lyman to fish with us. It’s a testament to the friendship.”