WILTON — Finding open water on ponds and lakes for fishing April 1 — the traditional day to start open-water fishing — may be impossible without a flamethrower.

Those waters are still buried under several feet of ice and snow.

Just after 12:45 p.m. Tuesday, one lone ice angler on Wilson Pond trudged through nearly knee-deep snow to a spot about 75 feet from the bridge just before the dam. He shoveled out a spot down to the ice. Using a chest-high ice auger, he drilled the length of the shaft to the engine to finally reach water.

On ponds in the Gray area, “an angler will bury the better part of an ice auger just trying to punch out a hole,” state fisheries biologist Francis Brautigam said Saturday in Bethel.

Brautigam said that it was “kind of depressing” driving up to Bethel from Gray for the Western Maine Fly Fishing Festival and seeing all of the snow along roads and on the ponds.

“I guess we’re going to have to be patient this spring,” he said. “I can’t even predict. I mean, I would have thought by now we’d have had some normal temperatures in the evening and at night, but look at how cold it’s been.


“We gain by a little bit of melt in the daytime, and then, you know, it’s freezing back up by evening,” he said.

In the past few weeks, Brautigam said he’s heard of people “claiming there’s some areas thinning out” along the shorelines of a few lakes.

“But there’s a lot of ice out there,” he said.

Many water bodies are still making ice. Sub-freezing and sub-zero temperatures that began in November have persisted every month, even past the calendar’s first day of spring.

“I was on Sebago the other day and it was just cracking like crazy all day long,” Brautigam said. “That was with air temperatures that were in the low 30s.”

He added, “People who are just really antsy and just want to get out and wet a line” can fish places like the Presumpscot River, which will be free of ice, and the Mousam River down on the coast.


The Androscoggin River in Dixfield had open water Tuesday but not above Rumford’s Pennacook Falls Dam.

“I think what will happen is that the people who enjoy ice fishing, they’re going to get to do it well into April,” Brautigam said. “I mean, that’s the bottom line, right? But, yeah, for the open-water anglers, we’re going to have to be patient. Boy, everything’s locked up tight.”

The prolonged winter also will shorten the window for fish-stocking. Brautigam said the department typically stocks after high flows subside but before the water gets really warm.

In addition to seriously messing with the mind-sets of eager open-water anglers, the heavy ice and snowpack is anticipated to be detrimental to the fish. He said snow prevents sunlight from getting down to the lake.

“Because we had early ice in and we had very heavy snow cover very early in the season, some of the small ponds that have a lot of weeds and organics will probably experience fish kills,” Brautigam said.

“What happens is unless sunlight is able to get down through, there’s really no generation of new oxygen taking place,” he said. “So, the only time you get an infusion of oxygen is when you get your spring turnover.”


Brautigam said he expects trout in rivers and streams to have a difficult time as well.

“Even on some of our river fisheries, we’re probably dealing with what they call ‘anchor ice,'” he said. “That’s ice that actually forms in the bottom of rivers, and then, at times, temperatures are probably at lethal levels.

“Trout can tolerate some of that, but we’ve had such an extended period of extreme low temperatures,” Brautigam said. “Again, even some of the trout are probably going to take a hit from this.”

He said he didn’t think high flows from spring melt, whenever that happens, will give the fish any kind of reprieve.

“The best years are when you have good flows throughout the growing season,” he said.

“I would expect this year with all the snowpack and any rain we get, we’ll have some fairly high stream flows. That will delay, I guess, the traditional beginning of the open-water fishing season on the rivers and streams.”

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.