My long-time fishing buddies and I just wrapped up two days of early spring fishing on Rangeley Lake. This year’s edition started off with an injection of excitement: On Friday, local fisheries biologists were checking anglers as they came off the lake at the Town Landing. I watched as biology specialist Tyler Grant processed a 24” female salmon that weighed in at four pounds thirteen ounces. The same lucky anglers also kept several other big fish, one of which was a beautiful brook trout. But my enthusiasm waned a bit when they told me that all these fish were caught on down riggers at 6o feet! Normal spring fishing technique involves trolling streamer flies near the surface. Hummm…

One of the three salmon that made it to our net. Bryce caught this one. It was too cold to take the traditional “happy angler holding the fish out in front of him/her to make it look big” picture! Nic Nichols

Bryce, Nic and I pulled into Oquossoc Marina at three o’clock. As promised Larry Koob and the guys at Oquossoc Marine had “my” boat in the water and ready to go. Actually, my wife and I only own half the boat but that is another story for another day!

It was cold but we were dressed for it. Or so we thought! I was wearing eight layers: tee shirt, long sleeved undershirt, chamois shirt, polar fleece vest, sweat shirt, life vest, Carhart hoodie and Gore-Tex rain coat. Long johns and rain pants completed my outfit. Plus, the canopy gave us some protection from the wind. No way would I be cold. Right?

Spirits were high as we loaded up the seventeen-foot Lund “Fisherman” for its inaugural ride of 2019. We planned to fish until dark. Once on the water, we motored out past Bonney Point and set up to troll toward Maneskootuk Island (formally known as Doctor’s Island).

In order to fish effectively with downriggers, you have to have reliable depth finder. And, my Garmin was not acting right. One look over the transom confirmed my suspicions. The transducer was “up”, positioned for trailering, not “down”, for normal operation. No big deal to fix, except it meant getting one arm wet to the shoulder. Yikes!

Did I mention I was wearing eight layers? Well, off came each one, in a bad impression of a strip tease. My buddies were very supportive. I wonder if their laughter was audible all the way across the lake at the State Park? Good to keep the campers entertained, you know.

Once I got the transducer properly positioned, we immediately started marking dozens of fish. It looked like we were in the right place at the right time. But, seeing fish is not catching fish. And, like the happy anglers at the landing told us, the fish were deep. Even more troubling was the water temperature. In the cove it was 40 but out on the lake it was only 37. I have never seen a lake that cold. And the canopy wasn’t doing much to break the wind either. Time to get the gloves out.

A couple hours passed with no fish, but we had lots of interesting sightings to keep us occupied.  Rheanna Sinnett’s new “floating camp” the Nomad is a real beauty. She looks like a “tiny house” for water lovers (the boat not Rheanna!). The Nomad comes complete with a sun deck, “indoor plumbing” and a full kitchen and will be available for rental this summer (call 443.852.1125 for more info).

We saw a big flock of sea ducks swimming in the middle of the lake. I believe these birds are white winged scoter, but why they are on fresh water, almost 100 miles from the ocean, is a puzzler. It certainly was not because they were in search of some warm water. Rangeley Lake was clocking in at full five degrees colder than the Gulf of Maine! I have seen similar flocks of sea ducks on Rangeley before, so this visit is not a one-time thing.

In the back of Smith Cove we spotted what appeared to be about twenty loons in a group. In my experience this is very odd behavior. Loons do “raft up” in the fall, but generally, at this time of year, they are paired up and going about the business of making baby loons. Could it be too cold to mate?

Speaking of cold, I finally broke the ice by catching a 14” salmon on a sewn smelt. With this, I won the prize for “first fish” and had the lead in both the smallest fish and biggest fish categories. Soon thereafter, Bryce got a decent salmon that was destined to win biggest fish. Around six o’clock Nic caught a 12” salmon right on top using an orange DB smelt. And, with that, my dreams of winning the smallest fish award vanished in the harsh light of Nic’s success (or would that be futility?). In any case, our celebrations were subdued. Despite the eight layers, I was cold and getting colder and so were my friends.

An then it started raining – hard. Unpleasant would be an understatement. Frozen fingers lack the dexterity needed for piscatorially important things like properly setting a downrigger or closing a snap swivel! I tell you this as the possible explanation of exactly how Bryce managed to lose “the big one”. It seems somehow his line became tangled in the downrigger release in such a manner that it was stuck fast. This happens occasionally. Unfortunately, this time it happened just when a fish, one big enough to snap Bryce’s leader, hit. It takes a very big fish to break eight-pound monofilament. Had the release worked, chances are good we would have come home with a trophy salmon or brook trout. Instead, we came home nearly frozen to death! On the bright-side, we were off the lake, well warmed and into our second “toddy” long before dark!

Postscript: How did other anglers do? Well, according to a follow-up email from Tyler Grant: “The fishing was generally good, many groups had several and some had none.  The groups that found the right combination of lure, depth and speed had a good weekend.” That, my friends and fellow anglers, rather splendidly sums up spring fishing!

Other boaters also reported the flock of “loons” in Smith Cove. Local loon expert Kevin Sinnett investigated, and reported that the birds were actually a flock of adult male Common Mergansers. In hindsight, I am sure Kevin is correct. The “loons” we observed were swimming in a single line, which is classic merganser behavior. The new question is: Why are all these males hanging out together during breeding season?


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