With a week of fishing behind them, anglers on northern Maine’s Long Lake are already smiling … and the season’s just getting started.
Traditionally, Long Lake hasn’t opened for landlocked salmon fishing until Jan. 15. This year, fishing for all species began on Jan. 1, and plenty of anglers took advantage of the opportunity.
Earlier this week I e-mailed a couple of men who’ve been generous enough to take me fishing on the lake in the past and asked them how their season-opening forays progressed.
Having spent more than a few enjoyable hours fishing the big lake that sits in Madawaska and St. Agatha, I suspected I’d hear glowing reports.
Scott Picard of Madawaska said his opening day turned out just fine, although his party did have to face an abnormal challenge for veteran Long Lakers.
“For the first day, we had to buy bait, which is not the norm for northern Maine fishermen,” Picard wrote.
Most years, many Long Lake anglers stock up on smelts during the days before the season opener, which they then use for bait. This year, with smelt and salmon seasons opening on the same day, they had to do what most of the rest of us do: head to the local bait shop.
Picard fished with four others, including first-time ice fisherman Rick Pelletier.
“I figured it would be a fun day for a new fisherman,” Picard wrote. “The day began slowly. We set our 25 traps and the first flag flew promptly at 8:07 a.m. Go figure, [it was] Rick’s flag. After a short see-saw match, Rick landed a 22-inch salmon weighing four pounds.”
On many lakes, that would be cause for celebration. On Long Lake, early on opening day, Pelletier was cautious and released the fish.
Long Lake is famous for big fish, you see. Bigger than 4 pounds. Bigger than 6 pounds. Bigger than 8 pounds. And had he caught a large fish right off the bat, Pelletier would have been required by law to release larger fish, had he caught one.
“The next fish was caught and released around 9:15 a.m., a small, 15-inch salmon,” Picard reported. “Between 10 and 10:30 our group caught three salmon 22 inches to 23½ inches, all weighing in the four-pound range.”
By the end of the day, the group had caught seven fish and kept two. Camp owner Lionel Daigle spent much of the day cooking for his pals, who appreciated the hospitality.
Picard reported that most spots on Long Lake were covered by a foot of ice, and on the north end of the lake anglers took trucks on the ice.
Picard, who spends a lot of time on the lake, cautions anglers to use particular caution near thoroughfares and stream inlets.
Not far from Picard’s party, Rich Rossignol and a group of friends and family members also took advantage of the early opening day.
“[My] wife’s not too happy about being a ‘fishing widow’ a bit earlier this year,” Rossignol admitted.
Rossignol said anglers didn’t experience the fast-and-furious action they’d come to expect on Long Lake, but everyone in his group did catch fish.
“[I’ve] seen quite a few footballs over four pounds in my neck of the woods but no monsters yet,” Rossignol wrote. “My son Nicholas caught his first fish over four pounds — [it] came in at four pounds, eight ounces — I’ve never seen a 10-year-old smile so much.”
Rossignol saw a bigger fish, and is even willing to tell you where it was caught. Rest assured, he wasn’t the one doing the catching.
“I weighed a fish for a friend of mine that was just short of six pounds, caught in the Bay Cruise part of the lake. Nice fish,” Rossignol wrote. “He’ll probably shoot me for mentioning his ‘fishing grounds’ in the paper, but [it] serves him right for catching a bigger fish than me!”
Truth be told, many avid anglers on Long Lake are perfectly willing to tell you where you can find fish … and where you can’t.
The catch: Even when you’re fishing prime territory, you may not catch a thing. And even when you think you’re fishing a salmon-free zone, amazing things can happen.
Just a couple years back, I recall reports of an angler from the southern part of the state catching a monster fish just offshore near the Long Lake Sporting Club in Sinclair.
Nobody else was fishing there, but since he was on foot, and the walking was difficult, he set up his traps as close to shore as he could.
Some local folks thought he was crazy to waste time drilling holes where he did.
In the days after he caught the fish, however, I’m betting the location became a lot more popular.
Youth fishing day approaches
If you’re looking for a fun family event, you might want to head out to Pickerel Pond and Maine’s Youth Fish and Game Association on Saturday.
The club is holding its annual family ice-fishing event, which focuses on providing an enjoyable day for kids.
As far as ice-fishing adventures go, this one is about as trouble-free as you could hope for: You don’t have to drill holes. You don’t have to bring traps. You don’t have to bring bait. You don’t even have to bring food … as long as you show up before the hot dogs run out.
All you’ve got to do is show up.
A quick note: Only children under the age of 16 will be allowed to fish.
The event will run from 8 a.m until 3 p.m., and all children who register will be entered into a drawing for a lifetime fishing license.
I’ve visited the event in past years, and I can guarantee one thing: Your kids will spend most of the day smiling, whether the fish bite or not.
To get to Maine’s Youth Fish and Game Club, head out County Road in Milford for about seven miles, turn right on Stud Mill Road, and drive another three miles. The club will be on your left.