You might be aware that the Rangeley Highlander holds an annual Rangeley Lake Ice Out Contest. So, once a year I make sure to keep an ear out for when exactly that is. This year I read it was 2am, which prompted me to call Donna Duchesne at the Rangeley Lakes Chamber of Commerce (RCOC) and check to make sure it wasn’t a misprint. She said it wasn’t. I then emailed Karen Ogulnick, also of the Chamber who also assured me it was no mistake. (Just fyi, they’re used to my annoying little calls and emails so don’t give it a second thought).

I thought maybe it was supposed to be 2pm because, well, I wasn’t really sure how it made sense for it to be called in the middle of the night. I knew that there was no actual boat that was manned to maneuver through the ice from one location to the other (although that would be cool to watch…), but I had recalled that maybe it was done with binoculars and so 2am didn’t seem possible. I don’t know, my memory wasn’t ever that great. In any case, I was able to track down the man tasked with calling both the date and the time, game warden Mike Pierre. Pierre was nice enough to explain it to me with what I have to say was a really a great deal of patience.

Game warden Mike Pierre

He started from the beginning, “So if we were fishermen separate from any type of bet or contest, or if you just wanted to fish and you were wondering when a lake was iced out you would look on the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry’s website.” He further explained, “they list bodies of water as they become open and it’s reported to their agency. The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry maintains all the buoys on inland waters so they have a distinct interest in the waterways.”

So what does that entail? “So their definition of ice out is what I go by and it means that you can travel from one end of a lake to the other unimpeded by ice.” In this way he said that this is what would be considered “The normal way for judging ice-out on any body of water in the state, based on what the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry displays on their website.” He further explained the different ways one might interpret that, “So one variable is, does that mean you can push the boat through the ice? What I talk about is unimpeded. So for Rangeley that has been different because there’s one definition based on the history of going from the boat ramp in Rangeley or Oquossoc Village, then to Greenvale Cove, then if you can come back out and make it to the boat ramp in the town of Rangeley in City Cove. And so that was the criteria I went by. And so even earlier, a few days earlier than the ninth, you could go from the boat ramp in Oquossoc Village all the way up Greenvale Cove  (which is actually in Sandy River, Greenvale Cove where Long Pond stream comes into the lake) That’s been open longer.”

So what was the hold up? “The City Cove boat ramp right in town is what took a little bit more time to open. The wind was really strong out of the west on the evening of the eighth. So I kept checking it in two hour increments and the ice was broken but you still couldn’t get through it with a boat. If you were in a boat we just bought, we wouldn’t want to damage our boat, right? But then I just kept checking it and when I came back out at 2am and it was all gone, so I was like ‘yup 2am.’ I would have called an ice out if City Cove had been open sooner, put it that way, but the Greenvale Cove element, that’s something I’ve heard around town. So everyone who has a different pool or a contest has a little bit different criteria. It would be nice if everyone was on the same page I can tell you that (ha-ha) but this just so happened that Greenvale Cove was already open and then all of a sudden City Cove was dissipated so I was like yup perfect, this works out fine.”

Okay, this all made sense but then I realized it still didn’t answer my question. I mean why 2am? Do game wardens really work such odd hours just in the name of ice-out? So, I asked him (politely of course). Again, he was as patient as you could be with someone who really has not a clue about such things. The only thing I really knew about game wardens was that they call ice-out and they try to prevent people from hunting or fishing when or what they are not supposed to. (Thank you Northwood’s Law.) He explained, “So this time of year there are spawning smelt runs in different lakes, where smelt ascend brooks to spawn and lay their eggs. Smelt are not native to this part of the state. They were introduced by state in the 1800’s, late 1800’s and they’re the primary forage base for landlocked salmon. So as game wardens we’re working smelt runs which occur at night, and then as ice out‘s coming then we start working open water fishing during the day. It’s one of those times of year when we have multiple hours going on at different times. So when I come out at night and check, it could be that I’m just checking to see what the smelts are doing that night, as they’re very temperature dependent on whether they are going to ascend tributaries to spawn. So if we have a cold spell or a little bit of snow they might not show themselves. They might not come in thick and then if we have a warm day they might come in really well. So their activity level is so variable based on incubation, temperature of their eggs, that’s why they’re so temperamental.”

At this point I thought maybe he was making sure people weren’t smelting where they shouldn’t at 2am. I imagined a swampy raid with flashlights. No, not quite so dramatic. (Thanks a lot Northwood’s Law). Apparently, I was way off base. “So what I’m checking- it’s legal to smelt in some bodies of water based on the rule book of what’s open and what’s closed. So as game wardens we check the open runs, make sure people have the correct limit and they’re using the correct implements and then other times we’re checking closed runs to ensure or to guard the fish to ensure that no one’s taking smelts from waters that are not allowed to be harvested from. It’s kind of more in depth than it seems sometimes.”

I thanked him for taking the time to explain everything to me in terms that I could understand and let him know I thought he is naturally a great teacher. He really did shed much needed light on this whole ice-out thing, and additionally, the whole smelting thing. Something I had heard about but didn’t obviously understand.

His role as a game warden became that much more clear. “So sometimes I’m relaying information to the fisheries biologists for different smelt runs for their fisheries management. Then other times I’m just sharing information with fishermen that I know. And that’s the thing about a game warden’s job is we are law enforcement officers but even with people that I might catch fishing or hunting illegally, most of us are still on the same team when it comes to our natural resources. We care about our natural resources. So it’s really multi-faceted I guess is the best way to explain it.”

 

I let him know that it was refreshing to hear someone talk about their profession in such a positive and respectful way. He obviously has a real passion for it, and calling ice-out seemed to be one of the icings on the cake. “One of the best things about it, besides the fact that people look to me to make that determination is the enthusiasm of the community, and all the people who have an interest in the area. It’s such a strong passion that people have for the ice-out date that it’s not just fun, it’s contagious. In some parts of the state, the sporting community isn’t as interested in that information. It’s more, they care but they’re not going to monitor Facebook or posts. But in this area, it’s such a strong part of the sense of the community. I just love it. People calling me from all over the United States- its fun. When it comes to things I’m personally passionate about, which is our natural resources, the outdoors, it’s very easy for me to share that with people.”

 


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