A recent cold snap had Maine’s lakes “making ice,” as the old-timers call it, and according to state fishing regulations, ice fishing is allowed on many ponds as soon as it’s safe.
And according to state fisheries biologists, there are some fishing options available in many parts of the state. But Mark Latti, who handles outreach and communication for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, urged anglers to be cautious on their early season outings.
“I would just really emphasize that if you are headed out check the ice frequently,” Latti said in an email. “This time of year, ice conditions can change rapidly, even on the same body of water. You might have 4 to 6 inches of ice in a sheltered cove, but as you move out of the cove, you could have 1-3 inches of ice. It’s best to play it safe this time of year, and that means checking the ice conditions frequently, not taking chances, and fishing with friends.”
Latti said there are a few general rules that always seem to apply: Deeper lakes are slower to freeze, so conditions remain unsafe longer into the season. And areas with currents are the last to freeze solidly.
“This time of year, it’s also a good idea to have safety equipment with you, such as a throw rope, ice picks, even a throwable life jacket,” Latti said. “Above all though, don’t take chances, and play it safe. No fish is worth swimming for this time of year.”
For anglers who will play it safe, there are some options to explore.
Down East Maine
Gregory Burr, the DIF&W regional fisheries biologist for Region C out of Jonesboro, said the pre-winter freeze-up is following its typical course.
“In the last five years these current conditions have been about normal for us with small ponds sealing up in late December interrupted by a brief warm spell just before New Years to make ice questionable again,” Burr wrote in an email. “We know anglers have started fishing some of these waters but great caution is advised!”
Burr said the best Down East ice exists on small ponds in the northern part of the region, just north or south of Route 9.
“Small ponds such as Keene’s Lake in Calais, Second & Third Old Stream lakes in T37 MD, Hosea Pug Lake in T26 ED, Lovejoy Pond in T 35 MD and Fitts Pond in Clifton, may have enough ice to fish on this week before the rain and mid forty degree weather forecasted for this coming Saturday arrives,” Burr wrote.
Saturday’s weather is predicted to be wet with temps in the 40s, so extra caution should be exercised during and after that thaw.
Tim Obrey, the regional biologist for Region E out of Greenville, said some local anglers have had some luck finding suitable ice in recent days.
“We’ve had some reports of ice fishing this month on a few of the smaller trout ponds,” Obrey wrote. “Fitzgerald Pond just north of Greenville is an early season favorite. It is stocked in the fall with 12- to 14-inch trout and a few adults. Also, Harlow/Manhanock ponds in Parkman and Sangerville as well as Prong Pond in Beaver Cove have had some December ice fishing activity. Big Wood Pond in Jackman will be a good bet starting the new year.”
Obrey advised anglers to avoid venturing far out onto lakes early in the season.
“Anglers should hug the shoreline and check the ice carefully,” Obrey wrote. “Avoid any inlets or areas with current.”
Obrey said the weather has led to a normal year of ice-building on local lakes.
“I always use Moosehead as a rough guide, where East Cove in Greenville normally starts to ice-in the week of Thanksgiving then the rest of the lake will button up around Christmas with the deepest regions taking the longest to catch,” Obrey wrote. “As I write this on Monday, the lower end of the lake has a little ice and there are still some areas with open water near Rockwood and the deep water areas.”
Obrey also suggested that folks interested in taking a peek at ice conditions visit a web page run by the Moosehead Lake Region of Commerce, which offers several live webcam looks at the lake and other local spots.
From Bangor north toward Enfield, ice fishing conditions are looking pretty good, according to Region F assistant fisheries biologist Kevin Dunham, who works out of the Enfield office.
“Even after the mild fall we experienced, it appears the recent colder temperatures and minimal snow cover have created fairly good ice forming conditions,” Dunham wrote in an email. “Many of the smaller lakes and ponds in our region have formed 4 to 6 inches of ice and some folks have been taking advantage of some early season ice fishing and the stocked fisheries in those places.”
Dunham offered up some suggestions to eager anglers.
“A few ponds open for ice fishing in December include Norton Pond in Brownville, Upper Pond in Lincoln, Middle Oxhead Pond in T40 MD, and Perch Pond in Old Town,” he wrote. “All of those waters were stocked with brook trout this fall. Another stocked pond, and a great place to get a child hooked on fishing for brook trout, is Little Round Pond in Lincoln; from December 1 to April 30 this water is open to fishing only for persons under 16 years of age or persons holding an eligible complimentary fishing license.”
Dunham pointed out that there are a few rule changes for this season, and urged anglers to review the rulebook before heading out.
“One highlight is there will be no size or bag limit on bass (smallmouth and largemouth) in the North Regions of the state in an effort to try to slow the northward spread of invasive species,” he wrote.
In northern Maine, what kind of ice you find depends on where you are, according to Region G fisheries biologist Frank Frost, who works out of the Ashland office.
“Northern Maine lakes vary considerably with ice cover right now,” Frost wrote in an email. “The shallower lakes like Portage and Scopan have been ice covered for several weeks with 5 to 9 inches of ice while the larger lakes like those on the Fish River Chain are barely ice covered. Eagle Lake has only 4 inches in one spot checked recently.”
But there are some fishing options available for early fishing after safe ice forms, according to Frost.
“In Southern Aroostook there are a number of waters open to early fishing. Mud Pond (Linneus), Spaulding Lake (Oakfield), or Hodgdon Mill Pond (Hodgdon) are all good choices for early fishing,” Frost wrote. “Once good ice forms up on New Year’s Day, Nickerson Lake (Linneus) and Drews Lake (Linneus) will be popular destinations.”
In central Aroostook County, Frost suggests Arnold Brook Lake in Presque Island and Scopan Lake in Masardis and Ashland. Both waters are stocked and open in December. Most importantly, both lakes typically freeze solid early in the season.
Farther north, on the Fish River chain of lakes, anglers will have to wait until Jan. 1 to hit the ice.
Frost said a regulation change on popular Long Lake in the Fish River chain is worth mentioning: The rule on salmon will revert to the way things were from 1996 until 2015: There will be a two-fish daily bag limit on salmon with a 14-inch minimum length. Only one salmon may exceed 16 inches.
And Frost said anglers should expect the lake trout and salmon fishing on Eagle Lake to be the best it’s been in many years, with plenty of larger-than-average fish.
And Eagle lake anglers might get a surprise, Frost said.
“We are also asking that anglers be aware that we have an ongoing radio telemetry study at Eagle Lake,” Frost wrote. “There are 14 tagged brook trout and seven tagged togue at large in Eagle Lake; note that these fish could also be caught in St. Froid or Square Lakes.”
Those fish should be obvious and easy to identify: They’ll all be sporting a whip antenna. Anglers who catch one of those fish are asked to call a biologist at Ashland headquarters — 207-435-3231, select 2 at the prompt.
And Frost said an additional 89 miles of the St. John River, from the confluence of the northwest and southwest branches all the way down to the St. John River, will be open to ice fishing beginning Jan. 1.