The state’s anglers received an unexpected gift from Gov. John Baldacci on Wednesday as Maine’s top executive signed an emergency bill that allows freshwater recreational anglers to begin fishing immediately.
Baldacci signed the bill shortly before 1 p.m. on Thursday, and by law anglers could have hit the water before the ink of the governor’s signature had even dried.
The new law is in effect until April 1, when a new fishing law book becomes effective.
Traditionally, the opening day of open-water fishing on the state’s lakes, ponds, streams and rivers is April 1.
Many years most of the state’s lakes and ponds are still iced over on April 1. This year, due to weeks of mild weather, potential fishing hotspots across the southern two-thirds of the state are losing their winter coats early.
That was the impetus for the emergency bill, which was shepherded through the legislature by Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield.
“Let’s go fishing,” Bryant said after the bill was signed, according to a Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife news release.
Deborah Turcotte, spokeswoman for DIF&W, said that between now and April 1 fishing will be regulated according to the laws that exist in the old law book. All bag limits quantified in that 2008-2009 book are still the law.
The part of the law that has changed, due to Bryant’s legislation: “All lakes, ponds, streams and rivers that would be open on April 1 [will be open immediately],” Turcotte said.
Turcotte stressed, as did Maine Game Warden Maj. Gregory Sanborn, that the expedited opening day does not mean that the 2010-2011 law book has taken effect. Many of the pending regulations in the new law book were designed to open up fisheries — many on warm-water lakes — to angling opportunities by allowing people to fish them as soon as ice recedes and to ice-fish them as soon as safe ice forms.
Instead, Sanborn said, any lake, pond, river or stream that would have been open on April 1, 2009, is now open. The new rules kick in on Thursday, April 1.
In addition, anglers in those northern parts of the state where lakes are still covered with ice are unaffected by the new opening day.
“Ice fishing regulations remain in effect [there],” Sanborn said. “We didn’t close ice-fishing season.”
Roland “Danny” Martin, commissioner of the DIF&W, said he was glad the state’s anglers will get to fish early after winter conditions didn’t favor ice anglers.
“People have been anxious to drop their lines given that ice fishing season ended too soon in some parts of the state with many lakes and ponds experiencing early ice-out conditions,” Martin said in the news release. “We’re happy to provide this opportunity to anglers and remind them to be mindful of early spring cold-water conditions by being safe.”
In Auburn, Lake Auburn’s ice went out eight days earlier than it has since record-keeping began 136 years ago.
DIF&W fisheries biologist Gordon “Nels” Kramer reported that ice went out on Cold Stream Pond in Enfield on Wednesday.
In Grand Lake Stream, one of the state’s fabled sporting villages, opening day is a virtual holiday, as dozens of anglers flock to the famous Dam Pool on April 1. Many suit up in waders and begin fishing at midnight.
On Thursday, Marie Laney, who works at the Pine Tree Store in Grand Lake Stream, said that the stream was flowing above the optimum level for fishing.
“It’s high and flowing fast,” Laney said.
Laney said 700 cubic feet per second is about the highest optimum flow for wading and fishing. The river was running at 1,500 cfs, but Laney said calls were being made to officials at Domtar, the paper company that owns the dam at West Grand Lake and controls the flow into Grand Lake Stream.
Laney’s hope was that the flow could be reduced so traveling anglers could enjoy their extra days of fishing in the stream.
Domtar officials could not be reached for comment, but in recent years the company’s flow regimen has called for reducing flow at the dam so that anglers can fish safely and productively.
High water and cold temperatures may be a concern statewide, Turcotte said.
“People have to realize that some towns might not have the ramps in or the sites open,” Turcotte said, reiterating Martin’s call for caution. “We are urging people to use caution because it is early spring out there. The water is still cold. And in many places, because of the weather in recent days, [rivers and streams] are running very fast, so we’re asking people to use caution.”