RANGELEY — Oquossoc sporting camp owners Mike Warren and Gerry White recently stirred up the fly-fishing crowd by petitioning the state to open five regional bodies of water to ice fishing for the first time.

These are: West Richardson Pond in Adamstown Township, Gull and Round ponds in Rangeley, Loon Lake in Rangeley and Dallas Plantations, and Saddleback Lake in Dallas Plantation.

And although the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is still taking comment on the petition through Monday, July 12, Commissioner Roland D. Martin and his Advisory Council aren’t expected to decide the matter until August.

The petition, which was signed by more than 150 people, seeks to open these water bodies to ice fishing from sunrise to sunset on Jan. 1 through March 31. If approved, it would carry daily bag limits of two trout and one salmon; restrict salmon ice-angling to two lines, and require artificial lures or worms only, and no bait fish.

Warren, who owns Clearwater Camps on Mooselookmeguntic Lake, said that he and White, who owns Rivers Edge Sports, led the effort to bring ice fishing in for two reasons.

“There’s nothing in this region open to ice fishing and there seems to be a lot of interest, and it seems to me that there were lots of bodies of water in the region that are stocked,” Warren said late Friday afternoon in Oquossoc.

“In part, in those bodies of water, it’s like a put-and-take thing. They plan on a certain number of fish being taken out and replacing them each year. And the other part of it is economic, in that I thought there was opportunity for families to get their kids involved in fishing in the outdoors and not sitting behind computers and game boards all day long.”

He said he believes there is enough ice fishing interest in the region to help grow the economy.

“Rangeley’s a remote community and everybody is enduring economic hardships these days, but if we can get somebody in town for one more night — one more six-pack of beer, one more dinner or pizza — that’s very important, too,” Warren said.

Opponents have argued both at the petition’s public hearing on June 30 in Rangeley and on the Fly Fishing In Maine website’s online forum that the economic impact “will be next to nothing.”

They’re also very concerned that ice fishing could negatively impact Rangeley’s prized fishing ponds and lakes with the introduction of non-indigenous fish species.

Which is why Warren and White specifically sought the opinion of state fisheries biologist Dave Boucher in Strong.

Warren said they told Boucher they would like to see ice fishing started in “whatever we deem together, but whatever you deem appropriate to be opened.”

Neither Warren nor White said they want to negatively impact native brook trout populations. That’s why they chose what they did.

Boucher said Friday afternoon in Strong that these waters being petitioned for are almost entirely stocked brook trout fisheries. One pond has a very small stocking program for salmon; another has a very small wild salmon population.

“None of them support significant wild fisheries,” Boucher said. “They’re primarily hatchery-based stockings, and they’re primarily managed under general law like bag limits for brook trout.

“They’re not the gems of the Rangeley area by any means. I mean they’re nice ponds and they occasionally provide some nice fish for holdover trout, but they’re mostly hatchery-based ponds that we stock annually to sustain a fishery.”

Currently, ice fishing is only allowed in Haley Pond in Rangeley and Lake Umbagog, which straddles the Maine-New Hampshire line.

But this winter, Sturtevant Pond, a 518-acre water in Oxford County off Route 16 and near the New Hampshire border, is being opened for ice fishing. Its main fisheries are brookies and splake.

Should the petition be approved, Boucher said the department would insert some fall yearling hatchery brookies in the five ponds and lakes to support the ice fishery. Fish lengths would average 12 to 14 inches. They would also be stocked in the fall so they won’t largely compromise winter fisheries.

However, Boucher said he doesn’t expect ice fishing to start in these five ponds and lakes — if the petition is approved — until the winter of 2013, because Maine has a new two-year law book that’s good until Dec. 31, 2012.

Warren, however, argues the state could do an addendum to start it this winter.

“I’ve been up here 25 years and heard people always argue the point for ice fishing, but nobody ever picked it up and said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Warren said. “So, I thought I might and see how the world felt about it.”

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RANGELEY — Comments on the Rangeley ice fishing petition are being taken through Monday, July 12, by Andrea Erskine at 287-5201, [email protected], or write to her attention at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, No. 41 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0041.

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