Rob Angelides, of Lewiston, collects a trap while ice fishing Sunday on Cochnewagon Pond in Monmouth. Cool temperatures have drawn anglers to the ice, which game wardens caution is still very thin on many bodies of water. Angelides said he caught a few small trout and cut through 6 inches of ice to put out his trap. (Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal)

Lower than normal temperatures throughout Maine have meant ice has started to form earlier than usual on many of the state’s bodies of water, though the Maine Warden Service is warning people to check conditions before ice fishing or going out on the frozen water.

Landon Blaisdell swings an ice auger equal to his own height while he and his family fish on Messalonskee Lake in Oakland on a cold Monday. Landon’s father reported the black ice was 4 inches thick. (David Leaming/Morning Sentinel)

“The ice is doing pretty well for this time of year,” said Maine Warden Service Cpl. John MacDonald. “It seems like there’s been unprecedented cold, so a lot of the smaller ponds are freezing though the lakes certainly aren’t safe yet.”

In both Augusta and Waterville, the average temperature in November was about four degrees colder this year than in 2017, and six to eight degrees colder than in 2016 and 2015, according to the National Weather Service.

The warden service doesn’t offer strict guidelines for when it’s safe to go out on ice, but advises instead that people always check for themselves. Fishing regulations, including if and when ice fishing is allowed, vary by region and body of water.

“Depending on where it is and how it forms, the ice can be very different from one body of water to the next,” MacDonald said. “It should be solid ice that is several inches thick, for sure, and will hold up a walking person, but that’s about as far as I’ll go (in issuing guidelines).”

MacDonald recommends checking the ice with a chisel to test conditions before heading out.

The warden service also advises against ever driving motor vehicles on ice.

“There’s no law against it, but it is a very dangerous practice,” MacDonald said.

Temperatures for December have also been below normal so far in Maine, according to Eric Sinsabaugh, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Gray.

Sinsabaugh said he could not comment on ice conditions, but “we are looking for this cold weather to continue, so I would imagine the ice would keep forming.”

In Augusta, the average temperature in November was 32.8, compared to 36.6 last year. The average temperature in Waterville was 32.7, compared to 36.2 in 2017.

This week, lows in the single digits are projected for Wednesday and Thursday nights, Sinsabaugh said.

Ice conditions are also a concern for snowmobile riders, though the warden service recommends not crossing lakes or rivers on snowmobiles.

In January last year, a Massachusetts man died after the snowmobile he was riding broke through ice near the Oakland boat landing on Messalonskee Lake, prompting the warden service to remind people that lakes and ponds vary widely in ice thickness and safety.

Most people who fall through ice survive without injury, according to MacDonald, who stressed the importance of keeping a chisel and ice picks handy when ice fishing.

“Some people have the mindset that they’re just going to die, but most people do survive,” MacDonald said. “Obviously, you’re going to get that initial shock of the cold water, but people certainly can overcome that, especially if you’re not in the water for an extended period of time.”

Ice picks on a string or attached to a person’s body can come in handy when trying to get out of cold water and up onto solid ice.

“You can propel yourself back on to the ice with your elbows, but it will be so much easier to do with ice picks,” MacDonald said. “That can help save your life and help get you out of the water quicker.”

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