By Glen Burgess

Sun Journal staff writer

Early-bird fishermen may have a difficult time finding open water in which to wet a line on April 1.

Old Man Winter kept an arctic grip on Maine, causing most lakes and ponds to become encased in two or more feet

of ice.

Two major snowstorms hit the Pine Tree State in December, giving an indication of a snowy winter. However, rains followed and melted most of the deep snow. Then came the deep freeze in January and February. Ice became thicker and thicker on area lakes and ponds.

Locating ice-free sections at popular early fishing areas, like Lake Auburn, may be far and few between. Of course, a sudden warming trend and heavy rains prior to April 1 could alter the playing field.

A check around Lake Auburn in early March found little open water. There was virtually none along the shoreline on Lake Shore Drive. At the popular early fishing area at Townsend Brook, only a trickle of water was flowing from the culvert into the lake. Usually, space is limited at this spot on April 1 as anglers crowd the culvert area.

The most open water was found flowing under the bridge at North Auburn, but not as much as in recent years.

It would appear that it could be another late ice-out date at Lake Auburn, similar to the 2003 date of April 26.

The Sun Journal has maintained an unofficial ice-out log at Lake Auburn since 1900. The latest date that the lake was ice free occurred on May 6, ironically in both 1939 and 1940. The only other May ice-out dates were recorded on May 3 in 1926, 1971 and 1972; and May 1 in 1904 and 1961.

On the other end of the spectrum, the earliest ice-out date was registered on March 30, 1981, the only March date ever recorded.

The public boat launch at East Auburn may not have many visitors at the start of the 2004 fishing season. But when the ice does clear, boaters will be flocking to that area in hopes of snagging a togue or salmon that are hungry after a long winter and in search of schools of smelts. Many lunkers are taken during the first couple months of the season.

Boaters are reminded that about one-third of Lake Auburn (southwestern section) is prohibited to angling. The restricted area is marked by buoys.

From all indications, brook fishermen should have the best chance of locating open water when the fishing season begins Thursday, April 1.

State fish and game officials are urging anglers to check the new law booklets before venturing on a fishing trip to ensure compliance with all laws.

If you are fishing in Maine this season, you won’t be alone. According to statistics, more than 375,000 Mainers will be wetting a line.

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