RUMFORD — This week’s cold spell should have happened last week to set up the ice in time for Jan. 1, Maine’s traditional start to its ice angling season.
After last week’s heatwave and subsequent windy conditions, Gov. Paul LePage urged caution on Tuesday in a news release for snowmobilers and ice anglers heading out to fish on opening weekend.
“Anglers should enjoy the excellent ice fishing season that begins Thursday, Jan. 1, but exercise caution regarding ice conditions,” LePage said. “Please take precautions so that your Maine ice fishing experience is not only memorable for the fish you catch, but also for the positive memories you make with family and friends.”
In western and southern Maine, state fisheries biologist Francis Brautigam in Gray believes anglers will only find ice on warm-water ponds that are shallow and small.
“There may be a few people out on opening day,” he said Tuesday afternoon. Brautigam’s coverage area is from Bethel south and west of the Androscoggin River through coastal Cumberland and York counties.
New Year’s Day is also the day that anglers can keep legal-size fish they catch on some water bodies where it’s catch-and-release only from October through Jan. 1.
On larger lakes, there may be a cove that has iced over by the first of the year, but he believes that only anglers willing to take a risk will attempt such coves.
“The way things are going, it’s going to be a late ice-in,” he said on Monday. “Ice conditions are not developing very quickly. Obviously, we’ve had a fairly consistent warm trend and it’s precluded ice formation.
“But I would say on the whole, at least down here, sort of in Cumberland and York County and coastal, I don’t think there will be much ice available come Jan. 1 this year,” Brautigam said.
State officials were advising ice fishermen and snowmobilers to use extreme caution when heading out to fish this week, especially in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway where hazardous ice conditions exist on the Allagash headwater lakes.
Allagash Wilderness Waterway rangers stated in a Tuesday news release that there is 2 or 3 feet of open water along the edges of the lakes in most places, with an inch of good black ice and about 5 inches of soft snow-ice atop it.
Brautigam said he uses Crystal Lake as an indicator of ice making since it’s directly across from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife office in Gray. Additionally, the lake is about 280 acres in size and 40 to 50 feet deep in its deepest spot and kind of in the center of the geographic coverage area he manages.
On Monday, Brautigam said there was “a little bit of shell ice around the lake, but it’s not buttoned up yet.” He said on Tuesday afternoon that the wind forecast for Monday picked up and broke apart all the ice the lake had made.
“Any bit of wind messes you up,” he said. “We had some years on Sebago where it was cold enough to make ice but the wind won’t stop, so it’s all gone.”
However, daytime temperatures below freezing and lows near zero on Tuesday buttoned up most of Crystal Lake with ice, he said. If the wind doesn’t blow, it will give the lake a chance to make ice. If it doesn’t snow and insulate it, ice thickness will grow.
“It’s really going to take probably three days of below-zero temperatures or below-freezing temperatures and no wind to create conditions that will allow for ice formation,” he said. “We’re having great weather now, but I wish we would have had this last week as we would have been in great shape.”
Brautigam said he spoke with a man who was up in a plane a week or so ago who told him that some of the really small ponds — the warm-water ponds that are less than 10 to 15 feet deep — had set up with ice.
“I think as you get kind of in that Waterford-Lovell area, some of the bigger lakes maybe the size of Crystal and larger, may have some ice on them, but I haven’t spoken to anybody that’s been out there fishing on them,” he said.
“So we’re not looking too good this year, certainly in comparison to last year. which was a really good year. Last year, people ice-fished early in the year and there was a late ice-out.”