Dylan Larose, left, and Gage Buiniskas unpack boxes of fishing tackle while getting ready Sunday for opening day of the open-water fishing season at Dag’s Bait & Tackle in Auburn. “It’s going to be a conduit year,” Larose said about the method fisherman use to get their bait underneath the ice and away from shore while fishing Monday at Lake Auburn. “We have this amazing quality of ice in March to fish on,” Larose said, “and everyone is sick of winter.” Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

AUBURN — Die-hard anglers have been itching for weeks for the start of the open-water fishing season, which is Monday.

“People have been trying to scratch that itch for a couple of weeks now, poking around, looking for rods and reels, picking up a few odds and ends,” Dylan Larose, who works at Dag’s Bait and Tackle in Auburn, said Sunday.

“Half the traffic, though, is still ice fishing.”

Due to cold weather and ample ice, Gov. Janet Mills signed an emergency bill last week to extend the ice fishing season in the northern half of Maine for three weeks, and smaller local ponds and lakes in the area still have fishable ice.

On Monday, eager anglers will have to brave temperatures barely breaking freezing.

“Down around here, you’ll have people try to get a holdover with a hook and a worm, trying to get a holdover from last year’s stocking,” Larose said. “They’re few and far between, and the water’s cold so they’re lethargic.”

A holdover is a fish — usually a trout — stocked the previous season that managed to stick around through the winter.

Turns out, fish are a lot like people. When it is cold, they can become lazy and lethargic. And those fish like to hide in deep pools or pockets in rivers and streams.

“Because the water is so cold, the fish are trying to be a little bit lazy,” larose said. “The bigger waters are going to have holes in them where they can settle down and find (slow moving) water.”

Local anglers tend to know of spots that produce results. Larose said the Little Androscoggin River, which flows along Route 11, near Mechanic Falls, is ideal for early season fishing. In the Turner area, anglers should follow the Nezinscot River, along Route 118. Anglers will find plenty of access points.

Larose said he sees many customers who gear up and head northward on opening day, often to the upper reaches of the Androscoggin, Penobscot or Kennebec rivers.

Josh Beane, 28, of Bingham said he has not missed an opening day of fishing since he was 11 years old.

Beane, who lives near the  Kennebec River, said his now-88-year-old mother, Orlene Beane, started the tradition of going out on opening day. Calling Beane a hardcore angler is an understatement.

“I’ve been fishing since I could remember,” he said. “I’ve always loved it. I’ve been a huge enthuaisist. I’m taking vacation this week so I don’t have to miss it, because it’s on a Monday.”

Larose said anyone who goes out Monday should not simply expect to catch fish.

“It takes a good angler, or someone who is incredibly lucky, to be able to pluck a trout out of the water this time of year (in) brooks and rivers and moving water,” Larose said.

“A lot of people go out around here not really expecting to catch anything, but there’s more to fishing than catching fish.”

Like feeling the fresh air, hearing the rushing water and being flooded with memories of warm, middle-of-spring fishing.

For those skillful — or lucky — enough to catch a fish Monday, Larose said the fish are bound to be big ones, such as holdover trout fat from a winter of feeding, or wild, native fish coveted by anglers.

“Everything out there is holdover stock or wild, native,” he said. “They’ve had a break all winter, and nobody’s been at them, so there will be some really nice fish caught.”

For eager anglers, the slim prospects for catching fish are unlikely to hinder them from wetting a line.

“You don’t have to be an expert, but it’s a die-hard day,” Larose said.

“You have to just really love fishing to go out, because a lot of people are going out with the expectation of not catching a lot.”

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