The trout won’t start biting in earnest, old-timers will tell you, until the leaves on the alder trees get as big as a mouse’s ear. Those same old-timers might also tell you that you’ll never catch any fish unless you head out the door and find some open water.
Finding that open water will be the challenge on Friday, the traditional opening day of fishing season, as most of the state’s lakes are still wearing their icy winter coats.
In recent years more waters have been opened to year-round fishing, but on many of the state’s trout and landlocked salmon lakes, ponds and streams, April 1 is still the day that die-hard anglers dream about all winter long.
For those anglers, any open water is worth exploring. For those anglers, a day in frigid water beats another day at the fly-tying desk. For those anglers, April 1 is essentially a holiday that has to be observed, no matter what. Snow? No problem. Rain? What rain?
It is, after all, officially fishing season. Finally.
Three state fisheries biologists took time out this week to provide a few early season options for those anglers who make a point of observing that piscatorial holiday each year.
Tim Obrey, the DIF&W’s regional fisheries biologist for the Moosehead region, said that open water would be in short supply on Friday. He admitted that he wasn’t among those fishermen who are driven to hit the water during the early morning hours of April 1.
“Personally, I’d rather set up the fly-tying bench in front of the TV with a Red Sox game and dream of May 1 instead of April 1,” Obrey wrote in an e-mail.
Obrey explained that options will be limited in his neck of the woods.
“I always chuckle reading the opening day articles because we are always a long way from open-water fishing on April 1 up in this country,” Obrey wrote. “The lakes and ponds are [frozen] tight and will be for some time. There are a number of waters that have an extended ice-fishing season up this way but I realize most people have had enough of winter and are looking forward to spring.”
Obrey said there are only a handful of places that people can fish with a realistic expectation of catching a fish on opening day in his region.
“I would recommend the Moose River below Brassua Dam and the East Outlet [of the Kennebec River],” Obrey wrote. “Anglers need to check the flows and it can be tough just getting to the water because of the ice around the edges. The West Outlet could hold a few fish, too. But unless it’s a real warm day, I have found the fish usually aren’t as celebratory over opening day like some anglers.”
The story out of the Penobscot Region is similar, according to regional fisheries biologist Gordon “Nels” Kramer.
“I wouldn’t anticipate any lakes or ponds in my region [being open] but again that may change by [April 1], so stay tuned,” Kramer wrote in an e-mail.
As far as flowing water, there are a few reliable spots, he said.
“The stock answer is the West Branch of the Penobscot [River], and all of the activity occurs in Nesourdnahunk Deadwater in April,” Kramer wrote. “[There is] not much for flowing water options that early. The East Branch of the Penobscot is very high and apt to get higher in April.”
Kramer said dam-owners are releasing a lot of water, trying to lower the level of their reservoirs, which makes fishing dangerous or impossible on many waters.
“For the bass angler, the main-stem Penobscot from Milford to Howland [is an option] but it is big water and [there is] always the need to be careful. Anything above Howland and you may need to dodge ice floes, which can add a whole other dimension to the sport,” he wrote.
In the DIF&W’s Downeast Region, regional fisheries biologist Gregory Burr manages one of the state’s most popular opening day waters, and had a few other ideas.
“For fly fishermen, Grand Lake Stream can be a very good opening day [spot] for landlocked salmon in the dam pool,” Burr wrote. “Domtar, [which owns the dam above the stream] has been running quite a bit of water from West Grand Lake since February in anticipation of a large spring runoff with all the ice and snow we had last winter.”
Closer to Bangor, Burr said anglers could head toward Penobscot Bay and find some good early fishing.
“Another flowing water that will be good fishing in April will be the Orland River between the Alamoosook Dam and Mast Hill Road in Orland,” Burr wrote. “This section of river has been very popular with anglers of all ages. It provides good bank-fishing opportunities as well as carry-in boat fishing. Anglers at this spot have also been known to catch good-size drop-down landlocked salmon and brown trout from stockings that occurred in Toddy Pond.