Lunker brookies, browns, rainbows and lake trout await ice-fishing fanatics
in the Pine Tree State. Try these highly recommended waters in southern and central Maine this month.
Brook trout remain the most popular winter species for Maine's winter anglers, and the outlook for 2003 is excellent. Photo by Tom Evans
By Al Raychard
For the fishing enthusiast, one of the great things about living in Maine is that the trout season never ends. There may be brief periods when the action tapers off due to changing weather conditions, but most years, if things go as they should, it is possible to wet a line 12 months a year.
This wasn't always the case. There was a time when Maine biologists protected its trout resources as if each fish were made of gold. Angling for trout over much of the state ended sometime in September, and except for a few select waters, most trout species were off-limits until sometime in April.
In recent years, however, as the popularity of fishing through the ice has mushroomed, winter fishermen have asked for and have been given the opportunity to catch more trout. Brook trout, browns, lake trout and rainbows are all winter targets across the state, and as interest in ice-fishing continues to grow, more waters are being opened to winter angling.
In fact, winter anglers not only have more waters to fish in 2003, regulations have been changed on some waters to allow more traps, and some waters are actually being managed with just ice-fishing in mind. For example, Maine's boundary waters with New Hampshire now allow each angler five traps (except for Great East Lake in Acton where the limit remains two).
The number of traps each angler is allowed to use varies from water to water, as does length and daily bag limits; so be sure to check the current regulations summary, available wherever fishing licenses are sold and at most bait and tackle dealers.
More waters popular with ice-fishermen are also being stocked later in the fall to provide more fish for the winter season. Many of these trout are legal-sized fish or leftover brood stock brook trout and browns.
All things considered, ice-fishing opportunities for trout have never been better in Maine. The only real dilemma is deciding where to go!
SOUTHERN MAINE HOTSPOTS Some of the most varied winter angling in Maine is found in southern zone waters. Unlike most of the lakes in the north, where lake trout and brook trout dominate the scene, a good number of waters in the southern part of the state offer a mixed bag that includes brown trout and rainbows, particularly in York and Cumberland counties. Although these waters generally draw plenty of angler attention and are fished hard due to their proximity to population centers, they are well stocked annually. Many offer healthy holdover trout populations, if not self-sustaining wild populations, and access is generally not difficult.
Great East Lake One of the region's perennial favorites is Great East Lake, a boundary water shared by the towns of Wakefield, New Hampshire and Acton, Maine. It is best reached from the Maine side from Route 109 and Young's Ridge Road, which leads to a public boat launch area.
Great East Lake is a deep, cold lake covering some 1,768 acres. The deeper water in the big portion of the lake is home to lake trout in the 6- and 8-pound class, while big browns occupy areas closer to shore.
The lake receives its share of attention each winter and the action can be spotty at times, but when things are hot, Great East has the potential of producing some of the biggest lakers and browns in York County. Fish it during the week whenever possible, letting the crowds have it on weekends.
The trap limit is two on Great East Lake, and the bag and length limits vary slightly from non-boundary waters. Be sure to check the latest regulations before you go.
Square Pond If things are a bit slow on Great East, or if more anglers are there than you like, head east for a visit to Square Pond in Shapleigh.
The brown trout program was reinstated on Square Pond a couple of years ago, and since then winter fishing has been productive. Last season, many brown trout were running in the 2- and 3-pound class, and two confirmed 10-pounders were also caught, according to Jim Pelloran, assistant fisheries biologist for the region.
This is a much smaller body of water that is easy to get to know. If you're fishing Square Pond for the first time, start fishing around the big island on the main lake or near the smaller islands on the north end, within 100 yards or so of the shore, for the best results.
Access is best off Route 109 going west from Sanford-Springvale. Follow Route 11 from the south end of Mousam Lake to the Town Farm Road, which provides access to the north end.
Mousam Lake Mousam Lake, at the junction of routes 11 and 109, is another fine winter fishery for browns as well as lake trout. Some monster brook trout are also taken there on occasion.
Bait, tackle, information on ice conditions and tips on where the action is can be found at Square Pond Marina on Route 109 in Action, (207) 636-9968; at Lakeside Marina, (207) 636-1485, or Beatle's Bait, both on the south end of Mousam Lake on Route 109.
Little Ossipee Lake Little Ossipee Lake in Waterboro, a 20-minute drive up Route 5 from the Biddeford-Saco area, is another York County favorite among ice-fishermen. Access is easy, and there is ample parking at the public boat launch area on Route 5, one-half mile past Waterboro Center. Traditionally, Little Ossipee is one of the first lakes in the area to freeze over and holds its ice well. Most winters it is possible to get onto the ice by the first of January (but check first!), and it is not unusual to be able to fish through the ice as late as a few days prior to the open-water season, as was the case last year. There are always exceptions, however, so always check ice conditions, particularly on the big bay off the launch area.
This lake is best known for its lake trout, and gives up some 4-pound specimens each year. Last season, Little Ossipee also gave up some brook trout in the 14-inch class.
Bait such as shiners and smelts, Swedish Pimples and other jigs work well for lake trout on Little Ossipee, while worms and night crawlers are good for brookies. That's true just about everywhere in Maine.
Ice-fishermen are limited to two lines on Little Ossipee, and the daily bag limit is two fish in the aggregate (salmon, trout or togue).
Kennebunk Pond While these larger York County lakes are always favorites during the winter season, they are by no means the only waters worth spending time on. Consideration should also be given to some of the smaller area ponds. For example, Kennebunk Pond in Lyman, off Route 111 between Sanford and Biddeford, continues to be a hotspot each winter for lunker brown trout, particularly in February. In size, Kennebunk Pond is small at just a few hundred acres, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in quality. Although the average fish is smaller, a few browns are taken each season that tip the scales between 5 and 10 pounds.
Kennebunk Pond also freezes over early, and easy access is available from the Kennebunk Pond Road off Route 111.
A number of other smaller York County ponds, including Long and West ponds in Parsonsfield and Swan Pond in Lyman, are worth visiting.
Sebago Lake The big winter attraction in southern Maine is Sebago Lake. This large lake has a healthy population of lake trout, and specimens up to around the 10-pound mark are commonly taken through the ice - when ice is available. Last season, Lower Bay, Jordan Bay and some of the smaller coves had open water until sometime in February. Anglers eventually got on the lake, but the middle of the lake never completely froze, and for a time it looked as if the season would be a complete bust.
Of course, Sebago going ice-free would be nothing new. Carroll Cutting of Jordan's Store on Route 114 in East Sebago, (207) 787-3866, keeps close tabs on what is going on in the Sebago area. He has ice-out dates for Sebago Lake back to 1932. According to Cutting, the lake went ice-free in 1932, again in 1937, five times between 1947 and 1955, in 1961, and more recently in 1991, 1998 and 1999. When and if Sebago will have sufficient ice is always a question, but when it does it can be a hotspot for lake trout.
"Once fishermen got on the lake last season," Cutting said, "just about everyone caught togue, and limits were everyday events."
Early hotspots include the Dingley islands and Muddy River on the north shore, Jordan Bay on the east and Lower Bay on the south end. Keep in mind that in the Lower Bay no fishing is allowed within 3,000 feet of the Portland Water District intake pipes.
Anglers unfamiliar with Sebago should inquire of area bait and tackle dealers, who always know where the action is (or was).
Sebago Lake ice-fishermen tend to move toward deeper water as conditions allow. According to Cutting, however, water depth doesn't seem to matter much.
"The key to success seems to be moving until you find fish. Most productive fishermen won't fish a location more than a few minutes unless they find action. They might only move 50, maybe 100 feet, drill new holes and try again, but they keep moving until they find a concentration of fish."
Cutting also says jigs with cut or whole shiners work well, as do Swedish Pimples, Leadfish and 1- and 2-ounce bucktail jigs.
For anglers who like to fish derbies, the Windham Rotary Ice-Fishing Derby is tentatively planned again for sometime in February. The exact dates had not been set at this writing, but the event is usually held on the last weekend in February. Entries should be available at local bait shops and other vendors around the lake after the first of the year. Additional information can be obtained by calling (866) 375-FISH (3474).
The big lake is not the only place in the Sebago region where trout can be caught during the winter months. In fact, because ice conditions were so poor last winter, some smaller area lakes and ponds more than picked up the slack. Even during normal years when Sebago ices over on schedule (if there is such a thing), these waters should not be overlooked.
Hancock Pond Two ponds worthy of special note are Hancock Pond in Denmark and Trickey Pond in Naples.
Hancock Pond is locally known as a prime winter hotspot for browns. Like most winter waters, it can be hot and cold, and at times downright frustrating, but it remains a perennial favorite among locals and visitors to the area because, when Hancock is hot, it has a reputation for producing big fish.
Local anglers like hitting the pond just before and after a major storm. While there are exceptions, the change in atmospheric pressure seems to put the fish in a feeding mood.
Browns in the 2-pound class are nothing unusual at Hancock Pond, and much larger specimens are a good possibility. One of the largest last season, according to Cutting, tipped the scales at just over 10 pounds.
The same baits and jigs used on Sebago seem to work well. Access is off the Hancock Pond Road, which leaves Route 11/107 going north out of East Baldwin or south out of the Bridgton area.
Check with Carroll Cutting for up-to-date ice conditions and information before visiting the pond. Hancock Pond opens to ice-fishing Jan. 1.
Trickey Pond Trickey Pond can be a good trout producer, and most years it is more consistent than Hancock Pond, and this is especially true in recent years. According to John Boland, regional fisheries biologist, efforts are underway through the regulatory process to keep the pond's game fish and smelt populations in balance, with the objective of making Trickey Pond one of the top trout ponds in the area.
The pond contains lake trout, brook trout and some splake (a hybrid cross between lake trout and brook trout).
Trickey Pond is off Route 11/114 in South Naples, past the Muddy River. In years past, getting to the ice in winter was a problem, but a new state access area put in a year or so ago has solved the problem.
Trickey Pond opens to ice-fishing Jan. 1, and the fishing can be good starting opening day if ice conditions allow. The daily limit on brook trout is two fish with an 8-inch minimum limit (16 inches on lakers).
Thomas Pond Nearby Thomas Pond in Casco, off Route 302 north of Raymond, has been stocked with some big brook trout of late, and specimens up to 4 pounds were being caught last season.
Long Lake Another big lake in the Sebago area that can be good is Long Lake in Bridgton and Naples. Ice conditions can be questionable at times, but fishing close to shore for browns is generally possible even if ice does not form over the deeper areas.
According to Dave Garcia of Naples Bait and Tackle on Route 35, (207) 693-363
8, Long Lake also gives up some respectable lake trout. Garcia is another good contact for ice conditions and on-the-spot information on waters in the Sebago area, particularly north of the lake.
Additional information on ice-fishing in York and Cumberland counties, whether it be on species availability in specific waters, ice conditions or regulation clarification, can be obtained by contacting the Region A office of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Gray at (207) 657-3259 or (207) 657-2345.
For lodging information or more tackle and bait dealers in the Sebago area, contact the Windham area Chamber of Commerce at (207) 892-8265.
Moosehead Lake It is difficult to gather a list of ice-fishing areas in Maine without mentioning Moosehead Lake. Along with Sebago, it is one of the most popular winter fishing destinations in the state.
The reason is its thriving lake trout population, with some fish that tip the scales close to 20 pounds. Lake trout will normally be found in the lake's deepest water, and winter fishermen can reach them only when ice conditions allow. Some areas of Moosehead may remain open or they could be unsafe well into February, as was the case last year.
An even bigger reason for Moosehead's popularity, however, is its brook trout. The secret to catching these fish is to set up close to rocky shorelines in shallow water, sometimes at depths of 2 feet or less. Sheltered coves and shorelines are always potential hotspots, even during winters when the lake is slow to freeze. This makes Moosehead's brook trout a worthwhile target when lake trout and salmon are off-limits due to poor conditions.
Another secret to catching Moosehead brook trout, according to experienced locals, is to fish areas where there has been little fishing pressure because hard-hit locations can produce spotty action or even be void of fish.
Worms and night crawlers are the most popular baits. A long list of special regulations governs ice-fishing on Moosehead, so be sure to check the regulations summary before you go.
For the latest ice conditions and information on active hotspots, contact the Region E office of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Greenville at (207) 695-3756. The same office can supply the names of local shops in the Greenville and Rockwood areas that sell bait and fishing gear.
For lodging information, contact the Moosehead region Chamber of Commerce at (877) 876-2778, (207) 695-2702, or visit the chamber's Web site at www.mooseheadlake.org.
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