Maine’s biologists reveal 4 secrets to early season fishing success

Modern fishing laws here in Maine often allow anglers to fish certain lakes and ponds year-round, but for many traditionalists, April 1 still means that it’s time to start thinking of open-water fishing. That date was, for years, opening day.

While you might not have much open water available where you live, the state’s ponds are losing their winter coats quickly, and by checking this handy list, you can find places that are entirely ice-free.

And thankfully, the biologists of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife have compiled this fishing report full of helpful tips that will help you find a few fish during the early season.

Penobscot Region

From fisheries resource supervisor Kevin Dunham: Historically, the West Branch of the Penobscot River has been an opening day destination for many anglers. The stretch of river between the Telos Road bridge (T3 R11 WELS) and the Abol bridge (T2 R10 WELS) in the vicinity of Nesowadnehunk Deadwater and Abol Deadwater, just off the Golden Road, is a popular spot for those itching to begin their open water season.

Anglers looking for early season ice-out trolling action will want to head to Seboeis Lake (T4 R9 NWP) for landlocked salmon and splake; Endless Lake (T3 R9 NWP) for splake; Hay Lake (T6 R8 WELS) for salmon and brook trout; or Upper Pond (Lincoln) for brook trout. Those lakes are stocked in the fall with each of the species listed and should pay piscatorial dividends right out of the gate.

Fishing tip: Success in cold water fishing often relies on slowing down your presentation and retrieval techniques. If you’re not having any luck when trying to entice lethargic fish, use subdued colors and a slow retrieval and your catch rate may improve.

Reminder: As always, whether you are fishing a swiftly flowing river or trolling a newly ice-free lake, spring water temperatures can be dangerously cold. Wearing a lightweight inflatable PFD or a float coat could help save your life if you unexpectedly end up in the water.

Moosehead Region

From fisheries resource supervisor Tim Obrey: April can be a tough month for anglers wishing to dip their toes in the waters around the Moosehead Lake Region. A lot of years, April 1 looks like Feb. 1. But this year we’ve had a mild winter in general, so we expect some ice-out fishing toward the end of the month. The Piscataquis River in Dover-Foxcroft opened up on March 28 and the general rule of thumb is two more weeks until Sebec Lake starts to open up and another 10 days until Moosehead clears. Of course, Mother Nature doesn’t follow any of our rules, but it’s safe to say you can look forward to open water fishing sometime after the third week of April up this way. The first two weeks are good for prepping the gear and restocking the fly box.

Moosehead Lake, Sebec Lake and First Roach Pond will be good bets at ice out. There are some quality-sized fish in all these lakes. Of course, if you’re looking for a lot of action, then head to Chesuncook Lake. We just wrapped up our winter surveys up there, and the fishing was pretty good, especially for those anglers that could travel up the lake a mile or two. There are plenty of salmon left and traveling on the Golden Road from Millinocket was good.

Fishing tip: 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.

Reminder: It’s spring and we get some pretty windy days on these bigger lakes. A little wind is good for the fishing but use caution and dress warmer than you would if you were on shore. A stiff breeze off the cold water will make it feel 10 degrees cooler. A lifejacket is a must this time of year.

Grand Lake Region

From fisheries resource supervisor Gregory Burr: Here we are, on the cusp of another open-water season with anglers looking to make mental or physical lists of the waters they want to fish first just after ice-out. With a late ice-in that didn’t happen until late January this winter, we expect lakes and ponds will go ice-free earlier than normal. That means that many waters on Mount Desert Island and some coastal lakes were mostly ice free by the end of March. Other interior lakes and ponds will have shed their winter coats by the second week in April.

That said, just because a water goes ice free doesn’t necessarily mean that the fish will bite early. Some do and some don’t but for some reason it is generally the same waters each spring. Without trying to sound like an early springtime broken record, I do recommend fishing the small trout ponds first as their surface waters heat up the quickest and these warmer water temperatures tend to activate food movement along the shores and bring trout out of their winter lethargy.

I recommend fishing the south facing shores of trout ponds that were not open to ice fishing. These ponds were stocked last fall and were not fished over during the winter, so the trout are there waiting for you! These are your best bet for fast fishing early.

Fishing tip: For stream fishing it is best to wait until May, but I do recommend fly fishing Grand Lake Stream in the first two weeks of April for landlocked salmon.

Reminder: It is illegal to stand on the ice and cast into open water.

Fish River Lakes Region

From fisheries resource supervisor Frank Frost: Despite the mild March weather, northern Maine still has ice and snow and we expect there to be ice fishing opportunities well into April. Currently, ice on lakes and ponds is much thinner than normal but with the forecasted cold weather, ice and snow conditions should be good for late season. Snowpack is also less than normal but will be adequate for accessing lakes and ponds. Angler use has dropped off in March so anglers looking for solitude can find it this late season. Because we are transitioning from ice fishing to open water, I have split the suggested places to go with two ice fishing and two open water spots.

Remote, backcountry lakes open to ice fishing can be accessed via North Maine Woods. We are currently working on Clear Lake and the Musquacook Lake chain (First, Second and Third) and these lakes remain accessible for ice fishing. Anglers should be aware that gravel roads in North Maine Woods become soft and prone to damage this time of year. Cold nights and mornings help keep these roads passable in late March so anglers should plan accordingly. There is ample snow to use snowmobiles now to access the lakes.

Cross Lake: One of the Fish River Chain of Lakes, this water can be accessed off the Disy Road in T16R5 where there is a public access facility. Anglers can easily walk from the parking area to access fishable water for salmon and brook trout.

Fish River, Fort Kent: That portion of the River from Fish River Falls downstream to the Saint John River is open year-round. Anglers will find fishable flows this time of year, before the spring runoff begins, and will find salmon and brook trout here in a remote setting, yet close to town.

Scopan Stream, Masardis: Anglers will find a good access point via Sterling Ridge Road and Scopan Road to the outlet of Scopan Lake. The stream can be accessed via a trail from the parking area. This site is stocked annually with salmon and brook trout in the fall so if some fish have overwintered at the site, anglers may find good action here.

Fishing tip: Rainbow smelt can be found this time of year staging for spawning, usually near inlets or outlets. Often sportfish focus on these areas to feed on these prized forage fish. Anglers can find good action in these areas but must also be cautious of thin ice.

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