Old News Archive

January 16, 2007 - Ice Fishing Report

January 16, 2007 - TRC

Region A- Southwestern Maine

Region A is known as the Sebago Lakes Region, named after what may be its most unique and important water. Sebago Lake and its major tributaries support one of only four native landlocked Atlantic salmon populations in the state of Maine and provide world-renowned fishing for genetically unique trophy landlocks. The three fishery biologists in Region A recognize the importance of Sebago Lake and devote a large portion of their time to the management and protection of its fisheries.

Recently each year seems to bring a new threat to the management of Sebago’s fisheries. Beyond the well-publicized illegal introduction of Northern Pike into Sebago, the newest threat is the proposed rebuild of Scribner’s Mill Dam on the Crooked River in Harrison/Otisfield. In this day and age, when the detrimental effect of dams on migratory species of fish are well known, it is disheartening to be dealing with the proposed installation of a dam on Sebago Lake’s most important salmon spawning tributary.

Historically, the available spawning habitat for landlocked salmon was greatly diminished (as much as 88%) by the construction of Bolster’s Mill and Scribner’s Mill dams. During the early 1970s efforts by the Department resulted in the partial restoration of fish passage to the upper reaches of the Crooked River. Further management efforts were required to recolonize salmon in the habitats above the old dams.

It is the opinion of the Department that reconstruction of an operable dam will result in a reduced potential for fish passage, which will aversely affect the seasonal migration of salmon as well as the movement of other species of fish within the Crooked River. Even a dam with fish passage provisions has potential to delay spawning migrations, reducing spawning success and recruitment to the adult population of Sebago Lake. If constructed, this one dam on the lower reaches of the Crooked River has very real potential to negatively affect angling for wild salmon on Sebago lake where, recently, as much as 70% of the salmon catch may be from wild reproduction. Region A biologists are working diligently to diminish this newest threat.

As an unrelated side note, reports from game wardens, anglers, and our own observations are that ice conditions have deteriorated since the beginning of the ice-fishing season. While we seem to be entering a much colder weather pattern, windy conditions seem to be keeping lakes with open water fairly free of ice. With the recent snow to camouflage the thin ice, conditions are more dangerous than ever, be careful out there !

-Brian Lewis, Fisheries Biologist Specialist

Region B - Central Maine

Ice conditions in Central Maine continue to be very hazardous after another week of above average temperatures. There are a few waters with just enough ice for die-hard anglers to ‘crawl’ out a short distance from shore to set traps. These hardy souls have had limited success. With the forecast for cold temperatures and snow, people will need to be very cautious, the snow may cover the ice but many waters will remain unsafe due to thin ice.

With little ice fishing to report, I thought this would be a good opportunity to update readers on the progress with Parker Pond.

As many of you may recall, Parker Pond developed a salmon growth problem in the early 1990’s, this slow growth was attributed to a dwindling smelt population. To bolster the smelt population we transplanted smelt eggs into the lake nearly annually until early 2000’s. Stocking was also suspended in 1999 and 2000 to ease the pressure on the smelt population. When stocking resumed in 2001, the number of salmon stocked (400) was half the normal rate and this rate has continued through 2006.

Progress can be slow but these strategies appear to have substantially improved salmon growth based on the results from our yearly trapnet operations. Last fall we set the nets for 12 days and caught a total of 101 salmon, all of which were very healthy looking.
We use a standard method to determine the status of growth for salmon, called the condition factor. This is a measure of length to weight ratio which calculates the robustness of salmon. Salmon condition factor from this fall’s trapnetted salmon is considered nearly ideal and was the best we’ve seen since the mid 1980’s. The fishery, while improving, remains below what was experienced in the 1980’s. The main reason being there are not as many fish to be caught due to the low stocking rate, which also limits the number of older larger fish.

The numbers of smelt in the lake appear to be growing based on our annual surveys of smelt spawning tributaries and, of course, the improved salmon growth. Our surveys the last few years have noted a marked increase in the number of spawning smelts. Now that the smelt have made a come back our plan is to slightly increase the number of salmon stocked to provide some additional fish to the angler.

Will the fishery in Parker Pond be returned to like the good old days ? Time will tell.

-James Lucas, Assistant Regional Fisheries Biologist

Region C – Downeast

By the time safe ice forms in eastern Maine, winter anglers will have lost most of the month of January to open water or dangerously thin ice. Who would have thought that the New England Patriots would be playing their third NFL playoff game of 2007 before marginally safe ice conditions arrived on even the small ponds ?

And what are some of the impacts of the record warm winter weather on Maine’s fish populations ? One of the foremost impacts may be that the trout and landlocked salmon that spawned in our rivers and streams last fall will experience warmer temperatures, accelerating egg development and yielding much earlier hatching and fry emergence than ever, potentially allowing 2007 to provide a longer growing season for young-of-the-year salmonids, creating a larger than average juvenile, a growth advantage, and a survival advantage that could result in more fish for the future.

Another impact of the winter’s warm temperatures is an expected benefit to eastern Maine’s river and stream populations of adult brook trout. These populations have flourished and grown dramatically during the past three seasons of beneficial spring through fall water flows and temperatures. Temperatures of flowing water during December and January have risen to the upper 30 and lower 40º F temperature range several times, rather than hovering just above freezing. Brook trout have undoubtedly experienced additional growth that would not normally have occurred, potentially yielding slightly larger fish this spring.

Favorable impacts may occur in lakes that froze abnormally late this season, too. Plankton populations benefit from slightly warmer water temperatures and more light penetration towards the lake bottom than if ice and snow cover had formed at the normal time. So if these tiny food organisms at the bottom of the food chain experience better growth conditions early this winter, the benefits could transfer to all forms of forage fish and sportfish alike.

Hopefully by the time you read this, winter’s blasts will have started to create safe ice conditions, and you’ll be headed out onto the ice flats! So far, my box score for activities of the winter of 2007 is:
fish caught = 0
ice fishing trips = 0
bedrooms and ceilings re-painted = 2
I know I am ready to change the score, and I bet you are, too !

-Rick Jordan, Regional Fishery Biologist

Region D - Western Mountains

Ice conditions are improving. With the recent cold weather ice thickness on the smaller ponds is likely over eight inches with as much as a foot in places. The larger ponds still are going to need a little time to thicken up. With another burst of arctic air things will probably be safe on those waters also. Clearwater Pond in Industry and Embden Pond in Embden will be the last waters to be completely safe in this area. Both ponds still had open water last weekend. Anglers still need to use good judgment and be careful around inlets, outlets, and the very deepest areas of the lakes and ponds.

Overall, the winter fishing season seems to be off to a slow start. Fish seem to be biting good on one day and then poorly for the next three or four. Anglers should stick with it, as many of the fish harvested this winter have been of a nice size quality. In our creel surveys this winter we have seen some good fish, including 18 inch salmon from Wyman Lake in Moscow, 12 inch brook trout from Chain of Ponds in Chain of Ponds Twp., and many 14 to 16 inch splake from Lufkin Pond in Phillips.

Anglers with children should be aware of something new in the winter lawbook this year. Two previously closed waters have been opened to icefishing to anglers under 16 years of age. Tibbetts Pond in Concord Twp. and Toothaker Pond in Phillips have been stocked with 50 large brook trout each. With a little help from an adult, a group of kids could have a wonderful time fishing without competition from older, more experienced anglers. Both waters have a no live fish as bait restrictions and a two fish limit. Tibbetts Pond also has a two-line restriction.

-Dave Howatt, Fisheries Biologist Specialist

Region E - Moosehead Region

There is not much news to report this week for ice fishing activity in the Moosehead Lake Region. Most of the smaller waters and bays on the big lake, which usually “button up” in November or early December, just froze over last week. Be patient, ice conditions should begin to improve with colder weather approaching this week. We did receive a fresh coat of snow on Monday, which will greatly improve the sledding in the region. The fresh snow covering the ice may seem very inviting but don’t let it fool you. It’s just not safe yet to venture far from shore.

Here is a brief report on a very interesting project we have been working in the Moosehead Lake Region:
From 1994 to 2001, we conducted a study on a small native brook trout pond in which we removed large quantities of competing species such as suckers and minnows. Each fall we would trapnet the pond for approximately two weeks. The brook trout were measured, weighed, and a small temporary fin clip was applied. These fish were then released alive back into the pond. We were able to estimate the total number of brook trout in the pond based on the number of recaptures taken each fall. At the same time, all other species were counted, weighed, and removed from the pond.

After 3 years we saw a dramatic improvement in the native brook trout population. The number of trout soared to double or triple the initial estimates. Growth rates also improved and we began to see many larger fish. In the first two years, we removed approximately 3,500 lbs of competing fish. In the following 6 years, only 570 lbs were caught and removed. Unfortunately, the droughts in 1999 and 2001 had a severe influence on the brookies in this small shallow pond and their numbers declined during the latter years of the study. However, it was clear that this type of project could have short-term benefits to small headwater trout ponds that suffered from heavy competition. It was unclear what the long-term effects would be.

This fall, five years since the study concluded, we returned to the pond to trapnet. We used some of our newly designed Maine Trout Trapnets that are very efficient in this type of study. We were able to complete the work with four nets fishing from Oct 2 to Oct 6. The results were very gratifying. The number of competing species was still quite low. We caught and removed just 246 lbs of minnows and suckers. Most of the suckers were larger fish suggesting that recruitment (production of young fish) is low. The brook trout population had rebounded nicely from the affects of the drought. The 2006 population estimate on this 70-acre pond was nearly 1,100 fish. This was the third highest estimate recorded on this water. The size quality of the trout was also very good. We sampled brookies up to 17 inches and 30 percent of the entire population was greater than 12 inches. That is quite an improvement since the project started in 1994 when less than 1 percent of the population exceeded 12 inches !

This work could be applied to other native and wild brook trout waters in the State. However, waters must meet certain criteria if this work is to be effective. In this case study, the pond was relatively small and it was a headwater pond. This is important because we were very efficient with our nets and there was no additional source of competing fish upstream to repopulate the pond. The chances of success would be lower in larger or deeper ponds because we would be less efficient with our nets. The fieldwork would be intensive requiring a substantial investment of staff time. There was a significant improvement in the third year at this pond. It would likely take longer on a larger body of water and follow-up netting should be completed periodically. However, the removal of competitors can certainly benefit a brook trout pond in the right situation. This is just another example of how the Fisheries Division continues to work on understanding, protecting, and enhancing our nationally recognized native and wild brook trout resources in the great State of Maine.

-Tim Obrey, Regional Fisheries Biologist

Region F, Penobscot Region

In the past few weeks, we have had many questions about where is there safe ice? We have been telling these diehard ice anglers to check out the smaller bodies of water that are open to winter angling. But most important of all, do not to take any chances, and make sure you check the ice first.

In the Penobscot Region, the lakes and ponds that had safe ice earlier in the month have lost as much as 3 " during the warm rainy weather of a week ago. Late last week, the ice started to increase again and we got back most of the ice we had lost. However the 5 to 9 inches of snow that came on Monday has made things more treacherous than even before. Anyone going on the ice for any reason needs to be very cautious. The predictions for mid week are calling for bone chilling temps, and its going to take several days of this weather to make safe ice.

As of Tuesday morning, we had reports that the main parts of East Grand, Schoodic and Cold Stream Pond were still open. Last week all of our big lakes were still open. So if you look out and see snow covered ice, remember, there is not much ice under the snow.
If you are interested in trying some open water angling, there is a section of Millinocket Stream that is open to year round fishing. The section just to the north of the Town of Millinocket in T1R8 WELS from Millinocket Lake Dam down stream to the Millinocket Town Line. 230 large (14 to 16 Inch) brook trout were stocked in November. The stream is open to year round fishing per general law provisions, EXCEPT that S-19 (2 Trout) is in effect.

Now that winter has finally arrived, get out and enjoy the Great Maine Outdoors. However I can not stress enough that one needs to be cautious on the ice.

-Brian Campbell, Fisheries Biologist Specialist

Region G – Aroostook County

Biologists spent the weekend checking anglers on Big Eagle, Churchill, Spider, Big Pleasant, Clear and Ross Lakes. Caution was exercised in traveling these lakes as open water persisted in the gut between Big Eagle and Little Round Pond and at John's Bridge. Ice over deeper water had a thickness of only 3 inches that had increased to 6 inches by Sunday. Slush had developed in various places along the shoreline. The trail from Zieglar parking lot to Big Eagle was rough and wet. Other snowmobile trails between lakes were travelable but will be greatly improved with additional snow. The warm temperatures of Friday cooled Saturday to zero on Saturday night. Although it was lightly fished as was expected due to the poor ice conditions, those fishing were successful in catching fish. We would note that Chamberlain Lake is not in this region and remained free of ice much longer than those we were working. Anglers with Chamberlain Lake as a destination should check with the Greenville office for ice conditions on this lake. Do not assume that because sleds are traveling Big Eagle that travel on Chamberlain Lake is safe, also.

Ice conditions on lakes in the Fish River Chain remained variable. Two pick-ups went through the ice in Eagle Lake. Caution should be used when traveling on these waters. Biologists checking Long Lake on Monday indicated anglers were successful in catching fish. Our creel survey clerk reports ice thickness in the Houlton area improving to 6-12 inches but fishing remains slow.

To end this report, I would relate an incident that occurred this weekend that typifies all the good things about Maine people. Friday I ran into George and Dan fishing on Ross Lake. George is from Penobscot and Dan is from Albany Twp. They have been fishing together now for several years - how they became fishing chums is another story. On this particular trip to Ross Lake, their first ever, Dan's sled trailer broke down shortly after crossing Abol Bridge on the Golden Road. They traveled back to Medway seeking to get a new trailer only to find the last one recently sold. The store owner suggested that they try Richard's Sport Shop in Lincoln, so on they continued to Lincoln. Successful in buying a trailer at Rick's, they went back to Abol Bridge, reloaded their gear onto the new trailer and continued on to Ross Lake. The old trailer was going to be salvaged by Rick's Sport Shop. A short way beyond Macannamac Camps on Haymock Lake, the tongue came off the new trailer due to faulty welding. As they were surveying the situation, a party of anglers came by and, seeing that they could do nothing to fix the trailer, suggested that they travel back to Macannamac Camps and call the dealer in Lincoln. They did this and upon hearing the plight of the two fishermen and knowing they had just sold them the trailer, Rick's Sport Shop said they would be on their way with a new trailer. At 7:30 p.m., the dealer showed up with the new trailer, offering their apologies and making things right. George and Dan reloaded their gear a second time and continued on to Ross Lake camps, arriving at 10:30 p.m. The next day when I saw them, they continued to be impressed with the service they had received from this dealer. On Sunday, the dealer flew up to Ross Lake to check on the men, making sure they had made it to camp and that the second trailer remained in good shape. That my friends is service you could only expect to get in Maine.

-Dave Basley, Regional Fishery Biologist

Submitted by : Mark Latti, DIFW
Division of Public Information and Education
284 State Street, State House Station #41, Augusta, ME 04333
For More Outdoor Information, and Sporting Licenses 24 Hours A Day, 7 Days A Week, Please Visit: www.mefishwildlife.com or contact ifw.webmaster@maine.gov

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