Among new regulations for the 2008 ice-fishing season:

• Except as otherwise provided by rule, fishing is no longer restricted to daylight hours. All anglers are allowed under general law to fish 24 hours a day. However, all lines must be under immediate supervision of the person who set them. The exception to this is that all lines set at night for cusk must be visited at least once every hour by the person who set them.

• The minimum length limit on bass in lakes and ponds has dropped from 12 inches to 10 inches.

Bait dealers ready for ice fishing

PERU – Bait dealers from Peru to New Gloucester are expecting a surge of business come Tuesday, the first day of ice fishing season on most Maine waters.

That coupled with early ice and more robust and new state fish-stocking programs should offer better winter angling in southern and western Maine.

“I expect we’ll see an outstanding turnout,” state regional fisheries biologist Francis Brautigam said by phone late Friday afternoon in Gray. “By far, this is probably one of the best ice years I’ve seen. Some of our small- and medium-sized ponds have been set up since Dec. 8.”

Bruce Thibeault of Bass Bog Bait and Tackle off Route 108 in Peru agreed.

“The early ice-in is good for bait dealers,” Thibeault said Thursday afternoon.

In western Maine, people have already been ice fishing on Roxbury Pond in Roxbury and Labrador Pond in Sumner, and several other small ponds that are open to ice fishing from the onset of ice through March 31. The rest that aren’t normally closed to ice fishing open Tuesday.

In the past two weeks, Thibeault and Don Mooney of Mooney’s Live Bait on Route 100 in New Gloucester both said they’ve received calls from anglers wanting to reserve bait for opening day.

To meet demand, Thibeault said he’ll have 4,000 to 5,000 shiners and 1,200 to 1,500 smelt on hand.

“I know people who are real anxious for the first. These are all the trout fishermen. I have one Buckfield guy who orders four dozen smelts every Saturday during the season and gets a couple of guys together and they head to Wilton Lake. I think it’s going to be a good year,” Thibeault said.

Despite early ice, Richard Stone said Friday afternoon that business has been slow. He’s owned and operated Stone’s Bait and Tackle on Cedar Street in Lewiston for the past five years.

Many of his customers, so far, though, have been fishing for bass and pickerel.

“There’s plenty of ice, but I really haven’t seen a big surge,” Stone said. “But there’s definitely interest in ice fishing. Trout fishermen have been waiting for the first. The last day of December is my biggest day of the year. That day, I’ll do three, four or five times as much business. That’s because everybody perceives the first as the first day of trout fishing.”

Smelt trapper Bill Locke, who has owned Dag’s Bait Shop on Towle Street in Auburn for three years, also expects a strong day on New Year’s.

However, he foresees a tough bait-selling season ahead.

“In past years, I’ve bought 10,000 fish in one whack for opening day, but I don’t think that’s necessary now. For me, to have real nice bait, that’s what it’s really all about,” Locke said Thursday night.

He said that high diesel and gasoline prices coupled with very competitive retail prices and bait dealers from Maine to New Hampshire stocked to the gills with smelt could make for low profits.

“The fishing business is a tough one. … Bait is just like milk. … you run the risk of losing it, coupled with operating expenses. The year before last, I did really well, but this year ain’t looking too good.

“Right now, there’s a lot of bait dealers who are really loaded up in smelts and they could have a lot to lose in fuel and their time in getting those fish. Like if you’ve got 2,000 fish in your shop and only sell 50 dozen this weekend, you’re pretty much screwed. New Hampshire’s full. Everybody’s full of bait. It hasn’t been good for a while,” Locke said.

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