Maine ice anglers have long celebrated New Year’s Day as the official opening day of ice fishing season — ice permitting, of course. In recent years, the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has opened up December opportunities on lakes that freeze early and allowed open-water anglers on some lakes and ponds to fish year-round.
Still, there’s something special about New Year’s Day, and on many lakes that hold cold-water game fish, the first of the year still marks the start of ice fishing — ice permitting, of course.
According to reports from around the state, ice anglers would do well to use caution on Maine lakes and ponds in the coming days; recent heavy rains disrupted the freezing cycle, and a subsequent blizzard put an insulating coat on some lakes that had begun to freeze, slowing the process.
Long Lake in St. Agatha and Madawaska ranks as one of the state’s top producers of trophy-sized landlocked salmon, and every winter, several lucky anglers haul in a fish that tops 7 or 8 pounds.
Because of its northern location, Long Lake typically freezes early. But a veteran Aroostook County angler said opening weekend anglers should remain cautious.
“People fishing on Long Lake should be very wary of the ice this weekend,” reported Rich Rossignol, whose home is on the Madawaska shore of the lake. “The lake froze very odd this year with very fluctuating ice thicknesses.”
In some cases, the lake hasn’t frozen at all, Rossignol reported.
“As of [Thursday], there’s still a huge area of open water that starts halfway across the lake in front of the Sporting Club [in Sinclair], and it also heads down the Sinclair bay of the lake,” Rossignol wrote in an e-mail. “In front of my place [near Birch Point Golf Course], there is 6 inches of ice, and I suspect there will be 8 or so by Saturday — good enough for me, but I won’t be putting my flags too far out.”
Rossignol said discretion might be the best course of action for anglers.
“Maybe [ice fishermen should] give the salmon a chance to grow another week and fish for a few trout near shore,” Rossignol wrote.
Daryl Gordon, a game warden pilot for the DIF&W, flew over portions of northern Maine on Thursday afternoon and reported that most of the lakes he saw were frozen over. A quick disclaimer: Gordon didn’t land and test the thickness of that ice; that’s a responsibility each angler must accept.
“Everything I checked was frozen over except for Eagle Lake [in the Fish River Chain of Lakes] and Long Lake,” Gordon said. “Eagle Lake just has spots that are open. Between town and Brown’s Point, it’s got several places that are open. Then again, up by Plaisted Point, it’s got some places that are open.”
Gordon said Rossignol’s report on Long Lake was accurate as well — large areas of open water are evident.
Gordon said Portage Lake, Squapan Lake, St. Froid Lake, Clear Lake, the Musquacook lakes and Carr Pond all were covered with ice. He did not check Beau Lake or Glazier Lake, which are popular with muskellunge anglers, but said he expected Glazier in particular to be treacherous. A strong current in Glazier makes it among the last to freeze solidly, he said.
In one of the state’s remote ice fishing hot spots — the Allagash Wilderness Waterway — rangers are cautioning anglers and snowmobilers that the ice is insufficient to support those two activities.
The Maine Department of Conservation issued a cautionary press release Wednesday warning recreationists of the danger that exists on the lakes of the AWW.
Of particular concern, according to AWW superintendent Matthew LaRoche, was Eagle Lake, which sits just to the north of Chamberlain Lake in northern Piscataquis County. Eagle Lake had 3 inches of slush-covered ice.
“Three inches of ice isn’t very much, and that thickness may vary from location to location,” LaRoche said in the press release, warning people to check the ice thickness often before traveling onto frozen lakes. He also said snowmobilers and anglers should avoid tributary streams and thoroughfares that link the AWW lakes.
Even those familiar with the Allagash region may find some surprises this year due to recent weather.
“The Allagash region received an extraordinarily high amount of rainfall this fall and early winter,” LaRoche said in the release. “Therefore our dams at Telos and Churchill are releasing more water than normal. This will cause currents in the thoroughfares and anywhere that brooks and streams flow into the waterway. These currents will keep the ice from forming in these places, or even worse, erode the ice from underneath.”
LaRoche said rangers went onto the ice on Allagash headwater lakes Wednesday and tested the thickness.
His report: Telos-Round Pond had 3 to 5 inches in places, with open water; Chamberlain Lake had between 3 and 8 inches; Round Pond in T9 R13 had 3 inches of ice with slush and open water; Churchill Lake had 5 inches of ice with some open water and slush.
And though the ice isn’t very stable, LaRoche said many anglers would head to the AWW for the traditional New Year’s Day ice fishing opener.
“We are expecting a couple hundred people to be out ice fishing on the first weekend of the season,” LaRoche said. “The native brook trout fishing is usually excellent when the season first opens.”
Anglers looking for more information on ice conditions and areas to avoid are advised to check with the ranger at Chamberlain Bridge or to call the dispatch center in Ashland during regular business hours, Monday through Friday, at 435-7963, ext. 1.