NORWAY — When Travis Turgeon met with his high school advisor about his senior project at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, he got good advice: Do what you love.

For Turgeon, who finished third in a bass tournament last summer competing mostly against adults, the answer was simple: Get people fishing. 

The 2023 Pennesseewassee Lake Ice Fishing Derby held last Sunday in Norway by Turgeon and classmate and angler Bohden Stetson was unusual because it was organized and run by high school students. In a state that holds upward of 30 to 40 ice-fishing derbies annually, the youth initiative struck a chord with many who attended the event. The derby attracted twice as many people as the pair of young anglers had expected.

The end result? Turgeon dreams of growing the derby into one of the state’s largest. 

A small crowd gathered around the officials tent during the 2023 Pennesseewassee Lake Ice Fishing Derby. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

That was not part of the requirement for their senior project at Oxford Hills. The school’s capstone projects require seniors to pursue an independent project that involves new learning and results in a real-world product or service, according to Brewster Burns, an Oxford Hills English teacher and the school’s senior project adviser.

“I’d like to do it every year where the profits went to the prizes the next year, so it gets bigger each year. This week coming into the derby on Friday and Saturday, people kept signing up. Registration just kept increasing,” said Turgeon, 18, who will study conservation law at Central Maine Community College next fall with the hope of becoming a game warden.


Turgeon created a Facebook page for the event and recruited dozens of sponsors. He and Stetson expected about 60 anglers, but 112 showed up to fish on a bluebird winter day.

Stetson, who helped run the derby weigh station and handled the class presentation for the project, also was stunned by the number of anglers who turned out.

“The derby surpassed my expectations. The turnout was much bigger than what I expected numbers-wise,” said Stetson, 17, a fisherman since age 5. “Travis and I had never had experience putting on a derby before. I was only worried about how the turnout would be.”

Triplets, from left, Nico, Finn and Kai De Neef, 5, of South Berwick enthusiastically answer questions as they talk about ice fishing with instructors. In the background taking a photo is their mother Whitney Fleming. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Through regular posts on the derby’s Facebook site – and his gusto to ensure the post appeared on social media sites for surrounding towns such as Harrison, Waterford, Poland and Bridgton – Turgeon helped draw an enthusiastic crowd. Seven walked away with prizes totaling $2,000, which proved a key draw.

“It’s nice to support high school kids doing outdoors stuff,” said Matt Bretton of Casco, an ice fisherman of 35 years who entered the derby with his buddy. “I usually enter a few derbies a winter. This is a good turnout. But they’re offering great prizes.”

“He marketed it on Facebook. He let you pay on Venmo. I’m all about paying online so you don’t have to show up and wait in line,” said Matt Smith of Norway as he sat jigging at a hole. “They’ve got everything running smoothly for high school kids. It’s a pretty good setup.”


About a quarter mile away on the frozen lake, Kyle Beaudet, who fished the derby with two friends and his two young children, agreed. 

“They got decent prizes and a good turnout. They’re doing a great job,” Beaudet said. 

The prizes were donated by a dozen sponsors. In addition, the two seniors raised $1,300 for their senior class from the derby registration, which cost $10 for adults and $5 for youth ages 15 and under. They also sold concessions such as hot dogs, coffee and hot chocolate.

Prizes included a set of Maine-made Jack Traps fishing traps, a fish finder, and two sets of snowshoes.

Turgeon worked hard to get sponsors, knowing that the biggest ice fishing derbies are all about the prizes. 

“I emailed, called or went to see the businesses in person to get sponsors. I also posted on town Facebook sites, like Bethel and Norway to remind people about the derby,” he said.


Stetson and Turgeon’s derby also was paired with a state-sponsored ice fishing clinic, where Chelsea Lathrop, an outreach coordinator for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, helped teach 13 adults and youth how to ice fish. Lathrop trained and certified other students at Oxford Hills as ice fishing teachers to help teach the novices who showed at the derby.

“I thought it was cool that high school kids were putting on a derby with the clinic. And it’s just such a cool vibe out here with everyone fishing. Everyone’s been so helpful,” said Larissa Tran of Bridgton, who came to participate in the learn-to-fish clinic.

A number of fishermen said the Venmo account Turgeon set up was the key to them entering the derby, since it didn’t require they show up at a certain time to register at the derby tent.

Despite a mild early winter, the students were aided when temperatures plunged in early February, creating a solid 10 to 12 inches of ice on the lake. That allowed fishermen to ride ATVs and snowmobiles across the glare ice.

The fact Maine’s largest derby – the Long Lake Derby in St. Agatha – drew only 290 in its first year in 2006 before growing to close to 2,000 anglers in recent years was not lost on Turgeon.

“It was definitely fun and I plan on doing it again. A lot of people seemed like they enjoyed their time out there,” Turgeon said. “It would be a little bit too much to ask to have it as big as Long Lake. That has $45,000 in prizes. But I want to grow it for the community, to give them something to look forward to in the winter so they can be excited for the day. If I grow it each year and put all the money back into the derby for the prizes, it could grow to be one of the biggest.”

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