Old News Archive

Ice Fishing Report 3-7-06

March 07, 2006 - TRC

March 7, 2006 Ice Fishing Report

Region A- Southwestern Maine

The last week of cold weather seems to have had opposite effects on either end of the region when it comes to ice thickness. While interviewing anglers on Norway Lake in Norway this past Sunday afternoon, I was seeing between 15 and 20 inches of ice in the holes which is enough ice to make almost anyone feel secure. My colleague Jim Pellerin however, reports that Kennebunk Pond in Alfred has lost as much as three inches of ice in the last week or two. He also reports two snowmobiles and one four wheeler breaking through thin ice on Kennebunk Pond. Experienced anglers know that the month of March is the time to target those warm water fish species for fast action that has hooked more than one kid on fishing. This March, as the weather warms and the days lengthen, more caution is needed as you proceed onto the ice. Unfortunately, some ponds in southern Maine may not be fishable for much longer due to rapidly deteriorating ice conditions.

The fishing that is being done is as variable as the ice conditions. The anglers that Jim and I spoke with this past Sunday reported great fishing on Saturday but poor results as of Sunday afternoon. Several Saturday morning brook trout and rainbow trout on Kennebunk Pond and brown trout on Norway Lake turned into a full day skunk session on Sunday. Best I can tell you is to keep trying, don't forget to hit your favorite pickerel and bass pond, and teach a kid how to ice fish ! Stay safe.

-Brian Lewis, Fisheries Biologist Specialist

Region B - Central Maine

Part of our jobs as fisheries biologists is to make recommendations to the Maine DOT for the replacement or retrofitting of road crossings where there is fishery habitat. Commonly, this means bridges and culverts in our region.

Within the last month we've made recommendations for a small stream crossing
under Route 1 that has a self-sustaining brook trout population. My contributions to achieve ourneeds for maintenance of the brook trout population were simple. Return the brook to what it looked like before human and cultural changes were made. Of course, it was not that easy, because Route 1 is a major route for all sorts of transportation activity. Consultation between DOT and IF&W professionals have come up with a resolution that will require new techniques and processes that will insure both fish passage and traffic flow.

Ice fishing is winding down and those who are still going out on the hard water need to use caution, as the sun is high and ice conditions will deteriorate and become treacherous. Some tips for those still in pursuit of fish - get out and set up early as fish tend to be active early, and also be patient, a good virtue of a persistent angler.

With spring not too far off, we in the region will again be preparing to trap net pike on the spawning run. We will place nets in the shallow ice-free areas of Long Pond to help in the analysis of the effects of the ice fishing harvest of pike at Long Pond. The three experimental ice fishing seasons running through this season may be having an effect on reducing the predation of pike on the salmonid population and more specifically on the once famous landlocked salmon fishery that has been decimated by the pike population. The future for ice fishing at Long Pond will be determined after all input from the public and professionals have been aired.

-William Woodward, Assistant Regional Fisheries Biologist

Region C - Downeast

There were safe ice conditions Saturday at Long Pond on MDI where I
checked anglers. Most of the pond sported 6-9 inches of ice, and fishing was pretty good. I weighed and measured two salmon and two pickerel. With any luck, anglers hoping to get in a final trip or two within the next several weeks should have that opportunity.

I'm retiring next month after a 35-year career, so this will be the last weekly fishing report I write for the Department. I'm going to retire to the Vermont countryside. Although I'm leaving the Pine Tree State for the Green Mountain State, I'll take with me many good memories of times spent talking with Downeast fishermen.

I want to devote the rest of my space to making several observations, making 3 wishes, and saying THANKS. Although those who follow in my footsteps over the next 35 years will face numerous challenges, I wish to highlight three of them:

(1) Increasing threats to public access to our lakes from selfish campowner

(2) Continuing large scale loss of wild brook trout rearing habitat in
rivers/streams due to beaver.

(3) Discourage the onslaught of illegal fish introductions with major
negative implications for our native sport fisheries.

Due to the loss of public access, we have had to terminate our landlocked salmon stocking program at Branch Lake and our brown trout stocking program at Bog Lake. Stocking programs at some other important regional waters are threatened by the loss of traditional access spots. I have watched this disturbing trend march up the coast from Regions A and B, and rear its ugly head in this region.

Campowners need to remember that the lake their camp is on is owned, not by
them, but by all the people of the State of Maine. Maine and non-resident anglers, canoeists, kayakers, snowmobilers,etc. have the right to recreate on these "great ponds", and from my perspective, most such users still do so responsibly. "They" do not threaten the future well-being of our extremely valuable lakes/ponds. A request to campowners/lake associations: those handful of southern/central Maine lakes with milfoil are a long ways from ours. Accordingly, be vigilant in keeping a watchful eye out for milfoil, and implement common-sense precautions.

WISH #1: rather than begrudgingly paying lip service to the fact that all Mainers own our lakes, more campowners need to have the courage to speak out against any and all tactics/actions which restrict public access.

Over the past 20 years, I have witnessed an explosion in beaver
populations Downeast. Compared to the 1970's when trappers kept sufficient
pressure on beaver populations to keep them in balance, reduced trapping
pressure due to low pelt prices have resulted in "beaver everywhere". I see
their dams on the smallest of brooks. Far too much of the best wild brook trout producing areas on numerous streams have been substantially degraded by beaver. Formerly highly productive riffle and run habitat has been lost as countless beaver impoundments have flooded them out, turning them into pools. Sure, some of the best trout fishing trout occurs upstream of new beaver dams. But, after the first 3-4 years, it's all downhill as these dams remain in place for many years. The beaver activity causes gravel spawning areas to be covered with a layer of silt/sediment, stream temperature increases, and trout can no longer move freely to key coldwater springy areas. My study on Black Brook, an important brook trout spawning/nursery tributary to Mopang Stream, showed that relative abundance of young of the year trout increased markedly in response to an active beaver removal program, and dramatically declined once the program was terminated. There are dozens of "Black Brooks" scattered throughout Washington and Hancock county, and the decline in the ability of these streams to produce small brook trout because of beaver depradations is alarming.

WISH #2: We need more beaver trappers to harvest more beaver from
our brooks, thereby returning streams to their
natural, free-flowing conditions of the 1970's.

The single most troublesome occurrence is the continuing epidemic of illegal fish introductions. These irresponsible acts have directly resulted in numerous declines in fishing quality for our native species. Some have caused me much anguish. When I arrived on the scene in 1971, the Tunk Stream drainage was pristine....just salmon, togue, and trout for sportfish...no bass, perch, or pickerel. Now, as a result of illegal fish introductions, smallmouth bass have been put in two waters (Long Pond and Round Pond) at the lower end of the drainage. Further,
smallmouths have been put into Little Tunk, Molasses, and Donnell Ponds, thereby surrounding Tunk Lake. Tunk is the third deepest lake in Maine, a true "gem" lake with crystal-clear water supporting popular salmon and togue fisheries. For generations, Tunk Lake has been one of Maine's crown jewels...this noteworthy status is jeopardized by the neighboring smallmouth bass populations. Some bass have moved down from Donnell Pond into the outlet where they prey upon small wild juvenile landlocked salmon, thereby substantially reducing the numbers of wild salmon caught in the pond. Downeast Maine has long been known for its number and diversity of landlocked salmon lakes, its premier smallmouth bass fisheries, and its wild brook trout fishing in rivers/streams. Good togue, white perch, and pickerel fisheries round out the plate. WE DON'T WANT OR NEED any pike, crappies, or more largemouth bass. Anglers can catch these species to their heart's content in southern and central Maine.

WISH #3: We need lots more fishermen to step up BIG-TIME and help us reduce the number of illegal fish introductions by convincing their friends/buddies to not move undesirable new species around.

Finally, I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to the hundreds of fishermen I have had the pleasure of getting to know during my career. Some of the happiest times I've spent have been chatting with anglers at Hopkins Pond, Tunk Lake, Donnell Pond, West Grand Lake, etc. during winter and spring creel urveys. Whether it was food and drink, hand tied special flies, valuable information which led to better fishing, lending a hand with a broken-down snowmobile, etc., etc., your generosity was appreciated. For all those who have kept fishing record booklets for us over the years, your excellent cooperation has been helpful. I take considerable pride in knowing that many of you, while by no means always agreeing with me, have at least respected my efforts to maintain/improve the Downeast sport fisheries. I'll always fondly remember the considerable support many of you gave me during the Department's 1984 financial crisis. This support was a major factor in convincing the Legislature that jobs like mine needed to be re-instated. I have learned a lot about various Downeast waters from my conversations with you over the years. While there is no shortage of current/future problems facing fishery managers...as alluded to above...I depart secure in the knowledge that much good can and will be accomplished in
combating the "bad stuff" through the outstanding cooperation of many of you true Maine sportsmen. I've seen it over and over, and I'm counting on you to keep it up in the years ahead. THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES!

-Ron Brokaw, Regional Fisheries Biologist

Region D - Western Mountains

Dave Boucher and I attended the Wyman Lake fishing derby the weekend of March 4 and 5. The derby is sponsored annually by the Upper Kennebec Valley
Chamber of Commerce. We saw more salmon registered than in previous years,
including a number of marked ones (with fins missing) indicating that they were hatchery-raised fish. We don't stock salmon in Wyman Lake, and it seems likely that these fish migrated from Pierce Pond, the outlet of which drains into Wyman. We also saw a number of splake, which we do stock at Wyman. Splake have provided a nice fishery where other stockings have failed, presumably due to the unusual water quality at Wyman. The lake is essentially a reservoir created by the construction of Wyman Dam many years ago. What makes the lake unusual is that cold water is continually drawn from the bottom, creating a very deep layer of warm water during summer months. In the past, we have stocked lake trout and salmon there, but neither thrived in the lake. Splake are a sterile hybrid created in the hatchery by crossing brook trout and lake trout, so they will not reproduce in the wild. We are attempting to minimize their tendency to migrate from the lake by stocking fewer fish, and we are also stocking larger fish that will likely be caught before they have the opportunity to migrate too far. By varying the number stocked and the age at stocking, we hope to continue to provide a splake fishery at Wyman Lake while minimizing their presence in the Kennebec River.

-Forrest Bonney, Regional Fisheries Biologist

Region E - Moosehead Region

As the calendar rolls into March we see Allagash Lake and Lobster Lake closed to ice fishing, there is just one more weekend of fishing at Sebec Lake, and the sun is higher in the sky settling the snow and melting the roads. Surely spring is on the way. In addition to wrapping up our winter angler surveys on the ice, this is the time of year when we "crunch the numbers" from all the data collected over the past year. Management decisions, such as regulation or stocking changes, are made based on the results.

This past week I have spent some time reviewing data from some of our trout ponds. One topic that is near and dear to my heart is producing high quality trout fishing in the Region. The Moosehead Lake Region is blessed with an abundance of trout ponds with a very wide range of physical and biological characteristics. This fits very nicely with our mandate to provide for diverse fishing opportunities for the public. Some waters have limited water quality and cannot sustain a wild trout fishery. These waters are best suited for stocking programs for a put and take fishery. Some waters have suitable water quality but lack spawning habitat. These ponds are best suited for stocking with a put-grow-take fishery. Many of our ponds have wild fisheries. Some of these ponds have large numbers of small fish while others have low numbers of larger fish. In general, we have more liberal
limits on ponds with an abundance of trout and more restrictive regulations on ponds that can produce big fish.

The tale of two trout ponds
Finding waters suitable for trophy management can be a challenge. For example, consider the studies we conducted over the past 10 years on trout regulations in the Moosehead Lake Region. In 1994, we worked with the owner of the local flyshop to identify a number of ponds that might be managed with catch and release regulations for trophy trout. We expanded that effort in 1996 under Commissioner Bucky Owen's Fishing Initiatives. We selected a cluster of trout ponds in the Greenville area for trophy management with a 1 fish bag limit and 18-inch minimum length limit. Also, as a trade off, we began more comprehensive stocking programs on some of the local ponds that would only support put and take fisheries.

All of the ponds under the 1994 rule changes and some under the 1996 changes
were thoroughly evaluated by the Moosehead Lake Regional Staff. We utilized
fall and spring trapnetting, voluntary census boxes, voluntary record books, and angler counts to give us a better understanding of the effectiveness of the new regulations. Two of the ponds were nearly identical in size, location, water quality, and species composition. Both had 5 fish bag limits with a 10-inch minimum length limit before trophy regulations were imposed. These wild trout ponds were mirror images of each other except for one characteristic: recruitment (the number of young fish generated each year). We determined that one 12-acre pond had around 100 to 150 fish. This is a relatively low density compared to data from other trout ponds. Yet, the catch and release regulations have been very effective at creating a high quality fishery with many well-conditioned fish between 16-20 inches. However, we estimated the population of trout in the pond on the other side of the road at nearly 1,000 fish. Therefore, the second pond had a density about 10 times greater. The regulations were not successful at creating a trophy fishery on this pond. Although we saw an increase in the number of fish up to 14 inches, we never saw a significant number of fish greater than 16 inches. In fact, growth began to slow and the fish became very skinny in just 6 years, negating any gains observed immediately after the implementation of trophy regulations.

We are still very committed to providing more high-quality/trophy trout fishing opportunities in this Region. We have learned that catch and release or 18-inch minimum length limits are most successful on waters with low densities. We are using this to our advantage on some stocked waters as well. We are stocking a few select waters at very low rates and have implemented very restrictive regulations in an effort to mimic the success on some of our low-density wild trout ponds. We have also implemented a new experimental slot regulation on several wild ponds that exhibit higher fish densities. The new regulations will allow harvest of 2 fish a day between 6 and 12 inches. All fish greater than 12 inches must be released. We hope this will allow a sufficient amount of harvest of smaller fish to maintain good growth and, at the same time, protect the largest fish in the pond from removal. It will be an interesting study that will add to our knowledge of
trophy trout pond management in Maine.

Attached are a couple nice trout from these ponds that graced the front of
my boat:

-Tim Obrey, Regional Fisheries Biologist

Region F, Penobscot Region

March has arrived with some of the season's best ice fishing opportunities ahead. While fishing effort has been down this winter, anglers are starting to show up in all of the usual places throughout the region. Cold Stream Pond has given up a few large salmon lately, some in the 4 to 6 pound category. Cold Stream is also continuing to produce a number of the fall yearling brook trout that were stocked this past December. Togue fishing at Cold Stream has been slow, but there haven't been a lot of opportunity for togue anglers because of the poor ice conditions so far this winter.

Good reports of excellent togue fishing from East Grand Lake continue to come in. Reports of fast fishing for togue up to 10 pounds are encouraging, as well as some excellent brook trout angling at various spots around the lake. Our other quality togue water, Schoodic Lake, continues to please patient anglers this winter. Again, the ice conditions had been the deterrent at Schoodic, but all that is in the past. Anglers fishing all areas report good ice and excellent action for togue from 3 to 6 pounds. Very few salmon have been reported, however.

We have a number of ponds in Region F that are open to "kids only", either during both fishing seasons or open to all during the summer and kids only in the winter. A local pond that has provided an amazing amount of recreation for youngsters in the Lincoln area this winter is Little Round Pond. About every week the Lincoln News has pictures of area youth with larger than average brook trout taken at Little Round Pond. The pond is open to all during the summer season but only open to kids under 16 years of age during the winter season.

The other notable regional pond open to youngsters year round is Pickerel Pond in T32. We stock brook trout both spring and fall at Pickerel Pond to maintain a higher than average catch rate for large fish. Maine Youth Fish and Game Association has sponsored a number of events for youngsters over the last few years at Pickerel Pond, during both the ice and open water seasons. All events are free and open to the public. http://www.maineyouthfishandgame.org/index.htm

On page 6 in the 2006 Open Water Fishing Regulations Booklet there is a complete list of all the Special Opportunities For Kids waters statewide. We continue to encourage anglers to consider taking a child fishing at one of these special areas.

-Nels Kramer, Assistant Regional Fisheries Biologist

Region G - Aroostook County

Fishing was good for the few hardy fishermen who endured the long trek to Clear Lake this weekend. Although angler numbers are still low, the lake whitefish were willing to bite. They were being caught at varying levels. Some were on the bottom and some were up near the ice. Two parties of happy successful fishermen greeted me during my trips to Clear Lake on Saturday and Sunday. Both parties were planning to go home with their limit of whitefish. One lucky angler was rewarded with a 6 pound 14 ounce lake trout. Angler numbers were also down on the Musquacook Lakes with an occasional brook trout or lake trout being caught.

Traveling conditions are excellent on the ice, as well as, on the unplowed logging roads. Caution is still advised near springs, inlets, and outlets where moving water can prevent ice from freezing very thick or not at all. Also be aware that the poor weather conditions earlier this winter have forced logging companies to put on a big push to get their logs out before spring. Be careful while driving on the logging roads. The truckers that I met this weekend were all very courteous and alerted me to their presence with their MURS radios, but remember to give them the right of way.

We would be remiss not to congratulate the Presque Isle girls and
Central Aroostook boys for bringing the gold ball back to the County. Now
that the high school basketball season is over and we are waiting for the Red Sox to begin the regular season, March is a great month to go ice fishing. Ice thickness on many of our lakes is approaching the need to have an extension. Warmer days make it especially enjoyable for family participation. This year with the lack of deep snow on the ice, it is apparent that slush will not be a problem unless we get some heavy snowfall. A small fire to cook hot dogs, coupled with catching a few fish will make a lasting impression for any youngster. Shut down the computer, get out and go fishing!

-Kevin Brown, Survey Clerk, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.