As April progresses and area brooks begin flowing more freely, many anglers can’t help but find excuses to take scenic drives through the countryside.
They’re not looking for animals, no matter what they tell you. They’re not going fishing, either.
If they’re like me, they’re looking for ice … or, more precisely, the lack of ice on their favorite fishing lake.
Trolling a productive lake just after ice out (and freezing yourself senseless in the process) is a springtime tradition here in Maine, right up there with smelt fries and fiddlehead feeds.
And until your lake is ice-free, spring simply hasn’t officially arrived.
On Monday afternoon I hopped in the truck and drove a few miles, hoping to find open water.
In a bit, I’ll tell you the good news.
First, though, the not-so-good, solicited via phone from one of my favorite Maine spots, Grand Lake Stream.
On opening day — April 1 — you may recall, the tiny village of Grand Lake Stream is bustling with traveling fly anglers looking to limber up after a long, cold winter.
After that opening day crowd disperses, however, action slows down until a second, less predictable opening day arrives.
Just after the ice goes out on West Grand Lake, another set of anglers makes its annual pilgrimage to town, hoping to tangle with a large salmon or lake trout on the sprawling 14,340-acre lake.
At the Pine Tree Store in Grand Lake Stream, owners Kurt and Kathy Cressey field calls for weeks from those hoping to be among the first to troll for those ice-out fish.
And on Monday, Kathy Cressey’s news wasn’t what anglers wanted to hear.
“We’re thinking probably [ice will go out of West Grand] the third week of April. It’s still kind of a guess,” she said.
Cressey explained that in her neck of the woods, the ice in area lakes vanishes in a predictable pattern.
“Lewey Lake’s out. Usually it’s Lewey Lake,Long Lake, Big Lake and then West Grand,” she said.
On Monday, West Grand’s existing ice was taking a beating from heavy wind, but the day wasn’t very spring-like at Pine Tree Store.
“It’s white out there on the ground today,” Cressey said. “They had the plow truck out this morning.”
Cressey said the snow didn’t accumulate all that much, but it did serve as a warning that Mother Nature might not be through with us yet.
“[We got] maybe three-quarters of an inch. It was enough to make it slippery and remind us that winter is not that far behind us,” she said with a laugh.
Cressey did say that area brooks are flowing freely, and that will help break up ice as those brooks flow into lakes. But she’s not expecting the ice-out anglers to hear any good news over the next few days.
“We’re just kind of sitting tight until spring breaks through,” she said.
Now, as promised, the good news for anglers looking to put a boat in the water and drag around a fly or sewn-on bait.
During my 55-mile circuit, I visited a few popular greater-Bangor ponds and lakes, and was encouraged what I saw … especially after a similar trip last Thursday showed far more ice than I’d hoped to find.
Seeing as how the news was equally encouraging at each of my stops, I’ll make this quick and simple.
Brewer Lake was ice-free as far as I could see from the Orrington town boat ramp.
Fields Pond was ice free.
From my vantage point on Route 1A in Dedham, Phillips Lake (Lucerne to many locals) was ice-free.
And after checking Green Lake from both the Dedham side at Jenkins Beach and the Ellsworth side off Nicolin Road, I’m happy to report that both spots were free of ice.
There was, however, a 30-mph wind blowing, and the lake’s surface was a frothing stew of whitecaps.
Those rough conditions far surpassed the favorable “streamer chop” that many fishermen favor, of course, and I never saw a fisherman braving the blustery weather.
There’s plenty of time for that, though … and at least the ice was out.
Bowhunters plan banquet
The Maine Bowhunters Association will hold its annual banquet on April 25 at Le Club Calumet in Augusta.
A social hour will begin at 5 p.m. and dinner will be served at 6:30. Tickets cost $25 for individuals and $45 for a couple. Raffles and auctions will be held.
To donate an auction item or buy tickets, call Jerome Richard at 426-2082.
According to the MBA Web site, proceeds will benefit the group’s efforts to educate and connect youngsters with the outdoors and the sport of archery, and to aid legislative efforts that benefit all outdoor enthusiasts.