PERU — While the ice isn't safe on many large lakes in Maine, there was plenty of ice Thursday morning on Worthley Pond in Peru for four fishing buddies from the Auburn area.
By 11 a.m. at 33 degrees, Mike Myrick of Auburn, Seth Edwards of Mechanic Falls and Jake Pelletier of Poland had caught four rainbow trout, two of which were 19 inches long and the other pair were 16 inches long, Edwards said.
Seated in a lawn chair was Andrew Labbe of Poland, who came to watch, but wasn't fishing.
The ice where the trio had set out 15 ice fishing traps — five each — was 8 inches thick, Myrick said.
Because Maine’s ice or winter fishing season doesn’t allow keeping salmon or trout until Saturday, Jan. 1, the men said they had to return the fish to the pond.
“Until Jan. 1, you can't keep anything,” Myrick said. “It's open to fishing, but it's just catch and release."
"So, we're out here for fun and pictures — to take pictures of the big fish we get — and then we can rub it in everyone's face that we're ice fishing and they're working.”
Three weekends earlier, Edwards said ice at Worthley was 3 inches thick when they ventured out onto it and caught a 4-pound rainbow that was about 20 inches long.
“We've been here three times so far and it's pretty good fishing,” Myrick said.
The die-hard anglers arrived at the pond at 7 a.m. Thursday.
They set up for the day and munched grill-cooked deer meat sausages from the 8-point, 181-pound buck that Edwards said he bagged during hunting season this fall in Tim Pond Township, which is north of Rangeley.
Myrick said a Maine game warden stopped by to make sure they weren't keeping any fish.
They said that since the warden had been there, the fish had stopped biting, and joked that the warden had pressed a button sending a sonic wave through the lake.
Soon after, a loud rolling boom was heard coming from the western end of the pond, which Edwards and Myrick said was pressure being released as ice formed.
Earlier, they said they were surprised when someone in a Jeep drove out on the ice nearby, drilled one hole and then left.
Pelletier, citing ice safety figures, said 8-inch-thick ice is considered safe for most vehicles.
General ice thickness guidelines for new, clear ice only are listed on the Maine Warden Service website. These are:
* 2 inches or less — STAY OFF.
* 4 inches — May allow ice fishing or other activities on foot.
* 5 inches — Often allows for snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle travel.
* 8 to 12 inches — Supports most cars or small pickups.
* 12 to 15 inches — Likely holds a medium-sized truck.
“Remember that these thicknesses are merely guidelines for new, clear, solid ice,” the site states. “Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.”
Edwards said they began ice fishing three weeks ago and had found good ice on Hall Pond in Paris, Lower Range Pond in Poland, and a section of the Androscoggin River in Turner.
“That probably has more ice than this,” he said of the river and Worthley Pond.
Bait dealer Bruce Thibeault of Bass Bog Bait and Tackle off Route 108 in Peru said Thursday that the ice was at least 6 inches thick on Worthley, and that business was picking up heading into the season-opening weekend.
"I've been getting a lot of business and people have been getting a lot of trout,” Thibeault said.
He said that Wednesday, ice anglers caught nine brook trout and two rainbow trout.
Dave Davis, who lives at Worthley Pond, said Thursday morning that the ice was from 6 to 8 inches thick, but slushy in the middle where “water is soaking into the fine snow, because the ice always cracks there.”
He said he met the same warden who stopped to check on the anglers.
“He said the same old thing, 'Check the ice before you go out,'” Davis said. “It's safe, but I wouldn't take a snowmobile or a vehicle out on it yet.”
A store clerk at Ellis Pond Variety in Roxbury said ice on Ellis Pond was more than 8 inches thick, and that ice anglers had been out on it for a week.
On Wednesday, park rangers on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway reported inadequate ice on the Allagash headwater lakes to support ice-fishing activity and snowmobiling.
Waterway Superintendent Matthew LaRoche warned that Eagle Lake “appeared to be especially dangerous, with only about 3 inches of ice, plus slush across the lake.”
“Three inches of ice isn’t very much, and that thickness may vary from location to location,” LaRoche said.
Heavy rains earlier this month forced dams to release water that would cause currents in the thoroughfares and anywhere that brooks and streams flow into the waterway, LaRoche said.
Heavy snowfall this past weekend, while great for snowmobilers and skiers, will insulate ice and slow the freezing process.
The extra weight also reduces the weight that ice sheets can support.
Like the warden who checked on the Worthley Pond anglers, LaRoche urged those heading out on the ice to play it safe and check the ice in the area in which they are traveling before venturing out onto the ice.