Anglers are keeping their eye on lakes across the state, eager to be among the first to launch their boats and spend a day fishing on their favorite water. First, however, they need to hear the two magic words: Ice out.
Not too many years ago, fishermen looking to hit the water just after the winter’s ice went out had just a few choices: They could visit their area lakes regularly. They could talk to fishing pals, who would pass along information. Or, if they had spent enough time in the woods and worn out enough boot leather, they might be able to predict a fairly accurate ice-out date based on what they’d seen in past years.
Nowadays — thanks to the Internet and people such as those who work at the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands — it’s possible to gather ice-out data without leaving your computer.
The BPL’s boating facilities division is again gathering ice-out information on its website this year, and while it’s asking Mainers to provide data on their own favorite lakes and ponds, it’s also distributing that information for free to anyone who wants to know where they can spend a day fishing or boating.
Included on that website, according to a BPL press release, are webcams that show real-time images of Maine lakes including Sebago, Moosehead and Sebec.
While the website is a valuable tool for curious anglers, fisheries biologists and lake-watchers across eastern and northern Maine are saying it may take awhile before much water sheds its winter coat.
Craig Watt of Indian Hill Trading Post in Greenville responded to an email query with some good news — and some not so good.
First, the good: The snowmobiling in his region remains fantastic. And the not-so-good?
“I would guess there has to be at least two feet [of ice] on most ponds, including [Moosehead] Lake,” Watt wrote. And while many are still riding snowmobiles on the lakes, Watt said it’s getting toward the time of year when extra caution should be exercised.
“Be careful around inlets, outlets and any moving water as they are opening up,” Watt wrote.
And as to actually getting out and trolling Moosehead Lake?
“I will take a wild guess and say May 7 for ice-out on Moosehead if we have a warm-up,” Watt wrote. “In short, it’s still winter in the Moosehead region.”
Bob Hamer, the executive director of the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce, sent along a historical chart of ice-out dates for the state’s largest lake dating back to 1848.
The earliest recorded ice-out on Moosehead took place on April 14, 1945. After an extended stretch of mild spring weather a year ago, the record was challenged: ice went out on April 15. And according to Hamer’s records, the latest ice went out of Moosehead was May 29, back in 1878.
Over in Down East Maine, regional fisheries biologist Gregory Burr has some of the best news: There is some open water to be found.
“All lakes and ponds in this region are still iced in with the exception of Simpson Pond in Roque Bluffs and parts of Lewy and Long lakes in Princeton,” Burr wrote.
“Depending on the weather in late March and early April we usually see ice-outs for the waters on Mount Desert Island the first week of April. The mainland coastal waters below Route 1 are usually out by the early part of the second week of April and most all waters between Route 1 and Route 9 are usually out by April 20,” he wrote.
This year things seem to be progressing a bit slower than usual on the coast, and nearly normally farther inland, according to Burr.
“Currently ice conditions on lakes and ponds are still pretty solid. Not safe, but solid,” Burr wrote. “Rain, wind and mild temperatures are what we need now to soften ice and make it dissolve.”
Among Burr’s other predictions: The northern end of Tunk Lake, Prong Pond, Jordon Pond, Echo Lake and Eagle Lake on Mount Desert Island should be ice-free by the end of next week. Burr says by April 18, Branch and Green lakes in Ellsworth should be navigable.
Up in Enfield, regional fisheries biologist Gordon “Nels” Kramer said winter is lingering in his neck of the woods. And that’s a big change from spring 2010.
“The earliest ice-out on record at Cold Stream [Pond] was just last year on March 23,” Kramer wrote. “The latest ice-out since 1952 was in 1972 when the ice went out on May 7. The average ice-out is April 23.”
And way up north, avid angler Rich Rossignol of Madawaska said conditions on his home water, Long Lake, remain downright wintry.
“It’s going to be some time before us north (in the other Maine) will be able to drown a worm or two,” Rossignol wrote. “The ice on Long Lake is showing no signs of spring yet — still measuring the thickness of the ice in feet, not inches. There’s still a good 2 to 2½ feet of good ice on the lake.”
Rossignol, who lives on the lake, isn’t expecting conditions to change much in the near future.
“I suspect we’re going to have an average year as far as ice-out time,” he wrote. “I suspect mid-May.”