The arrival of the new year also marks the official start of Maine’s ice fishing season.
But December’s roller coaster-like weather means many Maine fishermen hoping to spend their holiday on the ice may have to travel considerable distances — or resort to smaller ponds — to find ice thick enough to safely support them.
“There may be some isolated places where it could potentially be safe enough to fish,” said Cpl. John MacDonald with the Maine Warden Service. “Overall, compared to recent years, it has been a particularly poor year.”
Few, if any, of the larger lakes in Maine have developed a thick enough cap of ice to support fishermen, and Saturday’s wet and warmer weather won’t help. According to the Warden Service, ice needs to measure at least 4 inches thick before anyone should dare walk on it and at least 5 inches thick to support a snowmobile or ATV.
And those figures are for clear, solid ice on lakes and ponds. MacDonald said Friday he was not aware of any rivers where the ice is thick enough to be safe. He said people should use “extreme caution and good judgment” and check the ice before venturing onto it. The warden service also recommends not traveling on ice alone and repeatedly checking the thickness with an auger or spud.
“The one good thing is it is easy to see right now that the ice is poor” due to lack of snow cover, he said.
In southern Maine, some lakes don’t even have a skimming of ice much less enough to support a person.
Roger Knights, owner of Knights Bait Shop in Raymond, said Sebago Lake typically freezes over by Jan. 1. But on Saturday, Knights was seeing white caps as he looked out at the wind-swept lake, which isn’t exactly good for business.
“No ice, no nothing,” he said.
Things were just a little better in central Maine, where several Bangor-area bait dealers said they were hearing reports that some smaller lakes and ponds were frozen over. But many of their customers were planning to head north, where reports were mixed.
Up in Aroostook County, Ben LeBlanc was getting customers in his shop, Ben’s Trading Post, despite the freezing rain in Presque Isle on Saturday.
“A lot of the smaller lakes and ponds are off to a good start,” LeBlanc said. “Some of the bigger lakes, such as Eagle Lake and Long Lake, haven’t quite frozen over yet, though.”
Rangers in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, meanwhile, are warning potential anglers about unsafe ice conditions in the headwater lakes. Chamberlain Lake, for instance, had open water throughout the main body of the lake. As of mid-week, Round Pond in T9 R13 and Churchill both had 3 inches of ice with slush and open water while Telos/Round Pond had 3 to 5 inches of ice plus open water in some areas, according to the Maine Department of Conservation.
South of the Allagash, business was halfway decent at Moosehead Bait & Tackle in Rockwood. Owner Brad Scott said some of the smaller ponds in the area were ready for ice fishing and that nearby Brassua Lake was frozen over.
“I wouldn’t venture a snowmobile out there, though,” he said. But Scott was still waiting for Moosehead Lake to freeze and for the bigger snows to arrive so that he could begin renting snowmobiles.
Anglers living in ice-free areas of Maine who are desperate to fish may still be able to wet their lines, however. Many lakes and ponds in southern and eastern Maine are available for open water fishing year-round under rule changes adopted in recent years.
To be considered open water fishing, anglers cannot take a fish “through a man-made hole in the ice, from the ice or from any object supported by the ice,” the regulations state.
Fishermen are advised to consult the state’s fishing law book for rules applicable to specific waterways.