For many anglers, ice-out is a favorite time to fish for landlocked salmon and lake trout, while others wait for the streams and rivers to warm up before casting a line. The old saying that the trout bite when “the leaves on the alders are as big as a mouse’s ear” is still several weeks away in most parts of the state, but for those who just can’t wait any longer (and we don’t blame you!), we have a few suggested places and tips to try. In some parts of the state there is still opportunity to set a tip-up and enjoy the last days on the hardwater.

Remember that the water is extremely cold this time of year, and water levels are often high and fast – ALWAYS wear a lifejacket. If ice fishing, please use extreme caution on the ice.

Early season fishing tips

•Choose your bait. If you’re going to fish for salmon or lake trout in the earlier part of the season, I recommend passing on trolling lures and flies. Live bait, smelt or shiners, trolled very slow will likely be much more productive. Always check the laws to see if live bait is allowed. – Fisheries Resource Supervisor Jim Pellerin, Sebago Lake Region

•Fish slowly. While the ice may be gone or in the process of leaving, remember the water is very cold. Many fish will still be lethargic so it’s critical to fish slowly. Slow down your retrieve if you want to maximize your catch in the early spring. If you’re fishing rivers or streams, let the flow do most of the work for you. Look for velocity breaks or slightly slower flow, and remember to fish close to bottom. As the water warms and we start seeing insect hatches, fish will be more likely to strike throughout the water column. For now, low and slow is the way to go. – Fisheries Resource Supervisor Jason Seiders, Belgrade Lakes Region

•Hug the shoreline. Ice-out fishing is some of the best fishing of the year. The big brook trout are cruising the shallows and have a voracious appetite. In the ponds, the mayfly nymphs will be active along with leeches. In bigger lakes, salmon and lake trout will be tight to shore chasing smelt that typically spawn just as the ice is clearing the lakes. So, use your streamers and smelt imitations, if not the real thing, during the first week or two of open water fishing and hug the shoreline. – Fisheries Resource Supervisor Tim Obrey, Moosehead Lake Region

Reminder: Ice fishing season dates
Remember that most of Maine’s lakes and ponds open to ice fishing, remain open through the month of April.

South Zone: Under General Law in the South Zone, lakes and ponds are open to ice fishing and open water fishing year-round (unless otherwise stated in the special fishing laws section).

North Zone: In the North Zone, lakes and ponds with special season code “A” or “B” are open to ice fishing through April 30. Visit https://www.maine.gov/ifw/fishing-boating/fishing/laws-rules/special-laws.html to search Maine’s special fishing laws (Search “A (Open” or “B (Open” in the regulation column to find which waters are open to ice fishing through April) or use the map-based Fishing Laws Online Angling Tool (FLOAT). After April 1, once the ice disappears, you can open water fish on most lakes and ponds in the North Zone.

Ice fishing shacks: A person who owns any shack or temporary structure used for ice fishing must remove the shack or structure (1) In any area of the State in which there is a closed ice fishing season, by ice out or 3 days after the close of the ice fishing season, whichever is earlier; and (2) In any area of the State in which there is no close of the ice fishing season, by ice out or March 31st, whichever is earlier.

Be a good land user
Enjoy your time on the water, and remember:

•Leave no trace – Carry out all that you carry in.
•Park in public or designated areas – Don’t block paths or other roads. Be mindful of muddy and soft roads.
•Respect private property – Utilize public access sites or areas where you have permission to park or access.
•Be prepared – Check the weather, bring what you need for the day, and let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.
•Bring some of your catch home – In certain waters, the Department encourages the harvest of fish in order to maintain healthy fish populations and improve the fishery. Bring some of your catch home for dinner or share it with a friend.

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