Ice conditions improving, caution still urged

Ranger Chris Silsbee checking the ice on Telos Lake in January 2013.
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
Ranger Chris Silsbee checking the ice on Telos Lake in January 2013.
Posted Jan. 25, 2013, at 6:35 a.m.
Fishermen take their positions during the Crystal Lake Ice Fishing Derby in February 2012 in Gray.
Fishermen take their positions during the Crystal Lake Ice Fishing Derby in February 2012 in Gray. Buy Photo

Ice anglers say it every year: “All we need is a good cold snap, and the lakes will start making ice like crazy.”

Cold snap: Check.

But after a mild spell earlier this month, those who recreate on the state’s lakes and ponds should still use caution, officials of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said on Thursday.

Lakes are freezing up nicely. Some are very safe. But others aren’t, and even otherwise safe lakes can have spots that never freeze completely.

“Obviously we caution anybody any time they’re on the lake just to be conscious of where they are and what they’re doing,” said Doug Rafferty, the DIF&W’s director of public information and education. “This cold snap has probably cured some of that ice up and some of what was questionably is probably better.”

Rafferty said those who venture onto the ice should carry a chisel and check the ice thickness as they go.

“And don’t go onto the ice alone,” he said. “You just have to be cautious still. There’s been some wind, and that can fool you sometimes. You can get real cold [conditions] and still have whitecaps out on the water that are keeping it churned up, especially on some of the bigger ponds and lakes.”

Ice conditions at the start of the week were poor enough on Crystal Lake in Gray that an ice-fishing derby scheduled for Friday was postponed until Feb. 23. In other parts farther north, derbies are planned for this weekend. Among those events are tournaments on Long Lake and other nearby waters in Aroostook County, and on the state’s largest lake, Moosehead.

Rich Rossignol, an avid ice angler from Madawaska who lives on Long Lake, said he has been watching the ice pretty closely and is satisfied that the lake is mostly safe now.

“The ice on Long started out pretty grim at the first of the year,” Rossignol said in an email. “It started with five to six inches of that bad white ice. [It’s] been freezing up real good lately. We have at least 18 inches of good, black ice pretty much everywhere.”

Up on Moosehead Lake, Craig Watt, co-owner of Indian Hill Trading Post, said the big lake has made progress recently.

“Moosehead has finally started to look reasonably safe,” Watt wrote in an email. “The trail across from Rockwood to Kineo was marked [Wednesday] and that is always a good sign that things are freezing up. Ice thicknesses still vary widely. Some of the covers that have been frozen for a while have over 12 inches of ice in them. Some of the last-to-freeze areas are thinner and caution should always be used, especially around pressure ridges and running water.”

Tim Obrey, the DIF&W’s fisheries biologist for the Moosehead region, seconded Watt’s observations, and said the southern part of the lake has been frozen for longer and appears to be safer.

“The mouth of the Moose River is always tricky, and anglers need to be very cautious and stick to the marked trail or check the ice carefully,” Obrey wrote in an email. “As a general rule, the deepest areas of a lake are the last to freeze so we try to avoid these areas until we are absolutely sure there is sufficient ice.”

Obrey also said that he and DIF&W staffers spent this week working on Chamberlain Lake in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Ice conditions didn’t limit their work, but Obrey said anglers and snowmobilers should be aware of dangerous spots that always exist near the lake’s thoroughfare.

Closer to Bangor, Gregory Burr, the DIF&W biologist who covers the Grand Lakes region in Washington and Hancock counties, said a few popular lakes should be treated with extreme caution.

“As of Monday there was two to eight inches of ice on Branch Lake [in Ellsworth], similar conditions on Green Lake [in Dedham and Ellsworth], and open water on Beech Hill Pond [in Otis],” Burr wrote. “All of these lakes may have thicker ice now but caution is advised when venturing out on these large Hancock County lakes.”

The DIF&W has posted an ice-thickness safety guide on its website, but cautions that the chart applies only to new, clear ice. Ice that has begun to degrade may be white or mottled in color, and is much weaker.

2 inches or less: Stay off.

4 inches: May allow ice fishing or other activities on foot.

5 inches: Often allows for snowmobile or ATV travel.

8-12 inches: Supports most cars or small pickup trucks.

12-15 inches: Will likely hold a medium-sized truck.

The DIF&W adds another caution at the end of the list: “Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.”

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