March 4, 2014Winter’s doldrums have kind of settled into some of the ice fishing, as several freshwater species start to gather to stage for their spring spawning activities. Both white and yellow perch and rainbow trout are noted as spring spawners and as such they provide good opportunities to provide some good catches.
Ice conditions are reportedly the best of the season, with a bit of a bumpy and rutted surface because of the warm and then cold weather patterns causing rain and melt and then freezing. Ice depths are ranging as high as a couple of feet in some of the northern locations while locally they seem to have a good foot of safe ice. But you always have to be aware of places where currents or springs can make it dangerous.
“Ice fishing for lake trout or, as the Maine fishermen call them, “togue” has developed into more than one mode of catching them. In Maine, some anglers have found that in some lakes, the fish respond to one certain way of fishing while in other lakes that method of fishing doesn’t work as well. Sebago Lake is one great example,” according to Seth Legere at Kittery Trading Post’s fishing department.
“Sebago Lake’s togue anglers have found that setting tip-ups can be almost a waste of time, with jig fishing accounting for the majority of fish caught there. And some have found that they might just as well set out one tip up and jig with the other while others have several holes cut and rotate their jigging among those cut holes.”
“This lake has a huge population of togue and the regulations that have been recently promulgated provide for a possession of fish only in the so-called slot, which runs from 23 to 33 inches in length. Any fish that measures from 23 to 33 inches in length cannot be possessed. These rules were put in effect to try to control the togue population that had seen lots and lots of small fish, in hopes of growing larger fish.”
“Maine’s Moosehead Lake also has a set of very liberal regulations with no possession limit on the small sized togue. And we hear that at Moosehead, it’s a toss up whether to fish with a jig or set out tip-ups.”
“Although togue are usually very much oriented to bottom of the lake structure, they will suspend on bottom if that’s where the concentration of baitfish are. So more and more ice anglers have turned to using electronic fish finders as a result and their catches seem to support this use. The conventional fish/depth finder will work but becoming more and more popular are the so-called flasher units, and that is because these units will show you in real time at what depth the fish are at that they are marking. That enables moving your baits or jigs to intercept any fish that swims under your unit’s cone of view.”
“Over in New Hampshire, most of the lakes that contain lake trout have a two line limit for ice fishing, whereas lakes under the general ice fishing regulations provide for five lines. It seems that these regulations were designed to protect the landlocked salmon that are being stocked and managed in most of the lake trout waters. Unlike many Maine lakes where it’s legal to keep a salmon, New Hampshire doesn’t allow the possession of ice-caught salmon on any of it’s waters, so even if you are targeting lake trout you are still limited to two lines when ice fishing.”
“At New Hampshire’s largest lake trout waters, Lake Winnipesaukee, lake trout anglers are now finding that they often get a bonus of huge white perch that will be feeding in the same depth range as the lake trout that they are after. These are mostly monster whities, fish that will often average around two pounds!”
“In both states, another bonus of fishing the deep areas of a lake for lake trout will be some good catches of cusk, a delicious fish on the table and one that can legally be taken at night with set lines. Although cusk are bottom feeders, the fishing is best during their spawning period that is usually in February and March when these fish move onto shallower rocky reefs to spawn. Cusk fishing is best at night, but they are also caught in lesser quantities during the daylight hours. Dead or cut bait set right on bottom seems to be the best medicine for them,” Seth suggests.
MAINE: Registered Maine Master Guide Stu Bristol of Lyman reports that he'd seen some pretty good conditions right now for trout fishing, when the season opens on April 1. “In my travels scouting for wild turkeys, we've been pleasantly pleased by the fact that the brooks and rivers are not running as high as they could be this time of year, thanks to the nice slow snowmelt. If this continues, the stocking trucks can get out early and the stream fishing for brookies could be pretty good.”
“We are also planning a couple more ice fishing trips for crappie. This time of year you can get a big crappie bite, and with nice weather it makes for a rewarding day. One of the most productive places to crappie fish is Arrowhead Lake in the Waterford area. This lake also produces very steady fishing.”
Stu guides and teaches fly fishing on the freshwater portion of the Saco River from Biddeford up to the Skelton Dam. He thinks that there could be some very good early fishing in that area if this slow run-off continues. “We'll always have a chance at brown trout regardless of the water temperature but the smallmouths need some warmth to get really active. They produce most of our success in this part of the river. We also get a big thrill when one of those huge sea-run Atlantic salmon bust out of the water in front of us!”
Ice anglers are having a good season for togue (lake trout) at Sebago Lake, according to Saco Bay Bait and Tackle. “The key seems to be the method of fishing and what the togue are reacting to. Right now, fishing with tip-ups seems to be very slow but those that are jigging with one-ounce bucktail jigs tipped with bait seem to be having the most success. Key seems to be how they are using the jig. Dropping it right to bottom and then raising it up about a foot and then putting some action to the jig seems to be producing the most action.”
Also, the word was that the northern pike bite at Sabattus Lake was really picking up and some monsters had been caught there during the derby. Also Kennebunk, Bunganut and Parker Ponds were producing some brown trout and quality smallmouth bass.
Greg Cutting at Jordan’s Store in East Sebago seems to agree. “The whole lake is finally frozen-over so we get to fish a lot of the places where we’ve had good luck in the past. Our favorite spot is actually right out in front of the store, around the edges of what is called “the shoals”. It’s a place where there’s a drop off around some more shallow water. The fishing really picked up there this weekend for togue. One group of four people caught (and released) 43 fish, of which two of them had caught 32 of them! Although these people don’t keep any togue they catch, they said that a lot of the fish were over the 23-inch size limit but under the 33, top end of the slot limit. Several of the fish were 24-26 inches and were very fat. They were all using jigs tipped with sucker bait.”
“The cusk fishing has also picked up with the nighttime bite starting to produce some quality fish. The cusk are in their spawning time so this is the time that each year produces some of those larger, female fish that can grow to eight or ten pounds, while most of the cusk caught will probably average three or found pounds.”
“The Shoals out here provide some good night fishing for cusk as does the Camel’s Pasture south of here that historically is the best cusk bottom in the lake.”
“Trickey Pond in Naples produced some very nice fish this weekend. One group caught a 24-inch landlocked salmon that weighed well over five pounds and a real quality brook trout that was around 18 inches and two pounds. They also caught a big splake that probably weighed over three pounds.”
“The few people that were fishing along the shoreline there reported catching numbers of very nice smallmouths, fishing live bait on tip-ups.”
At Dave Garcia’s Naples Bait on Long Lake in the Sebago Region, Dave reported that average-sized white perch were the most dependable fish there at Long Lake but also that quite a few small landlocked salmon can provide action on tip ups, while an occasional lunker brown trout was always a possibility.
“We get quite a few people in here that are headed for Sebago Lake and one of them reported that he’d had some good luck on using a jig tipped with a brown crayfish plastic bait. He was motivated to use that trick because a previous caught cusk had a stomach just full of crayfish that the fish had picked off the bottom.”
“Over at the Range Ponds in the Poland area, the rainbow trout fishing has been excellent. Best trick seems to be molding our own salmon egg-size bait over a size 12 or 14 treble hook and fishing it just a couple of feet under the ice along the shallow shoreline areas. The Berkeley Moldable Power bait in hot pink seems to be the best combination.”
This info furnished by Bob Hamer of the Greater Moosehead Area Chamber of Commerce: “As Moosehead approaches the end of the ice fishing season the one constant for the whole season has been the excellent brook trout fishing. This has been a year when anyone targeting brookies has had no problem in getting their limits, and in most cases the catches have been wild fish. The togue catch is definitely down from past years, which indicates that Tim Obrey’s management approach is working. Tim has worked very hard the past several years to get the smaller togue population reduced so that there is enough bait fish to grow our togue and salmon. It’s definitely working with lots of reports of larger, healthier togue. Salmon fishing has been good and the salmon continue to have plenty of smelts in their stomachs. Most salmon are falling just short of legal minimums so quite a number were released to be caught again.”
Maine Master Guide Dan Legere at the Maine Guide Fly Shop in Greenville sneaks out of Maine during the cold months and heads to Florida, where he and wife Penny enjoy a bit of a respite before their hectic warm months at their Maine Guide Fly Shop in Greenville. But he can’t give up the fishing rod for long as he guides in the back tidal waters of Florida for some way different species than what he goes after in Maine!
Because Dan is always ‘thinking Maine’, he sent us this recent info on a strange fly hatch that has stymied many fly anglers, but Dan has it worked out now. Here’s his good news:
“A carpenter ant colony often lives in the root system of old growth, white pines that are atop an exposed gravel bank on the side of a lake or river. The queen emerges and takes to wing, dragging the winged colony with her. After she finds a suitable location to recolonize, the remaining followers lose their wings and get to the task at hand. It is random and a right-place-right-time happening”.
“We know when the ants have started because panicky fishermen, who had been catching fish, are in the shop claiming they now can’t catch anything. And the one fish they did catch was coughing-up flying black ants. We have the cure for that and it’s called an Amazon Ant in size 8!”
“The life cycle of carpenter ants begins with a nuptial flight, which usually occurs in late spring or early summer, depending on environmental factors. In our region, the first flight begins on those early sunny, warm May days. During this mating flight, male winged carpenter ants, or swarmers, mate with winged females. Soon after mating, the females shed their wings and the males die. Whenever a swarm takes place on water’s edge, thousands of ants end up in the drink as fish food.”
“The female ants then search for a new place to build their colonies. The queen typically seeks a small crack in a wooden structure. She then closes herself inside that chamber and lays the first batch of eggs. She remains inside the chamber until her first batch of eggs become adult workers. During this time, the queen uses her stored fat reserves and wind muscles for nourishment.”
“The queen provides food for the young by means of salivary glands until they become workers capable of foraging. The queen looks after her first brood, and once grown, that first brood of adult workers take care of subsequent broods.”
“It takes three to six years to establish a large and stable colony. The life cycle of the carpenter ant is estimated to be 6 to 12 weeks from egg to adult. Cold weather can stretch the development time of carpenter ants up to 10 months.”
“The only role of the carpenter ant queen is to lay eggs, but as soon as worker carpenter ants mature into adults, they take on the responsibility of the colony. They forage for food, tend to the eggs, larvae and pupae, and excavate galleries to broaden and propagate their nest.”
“Functions are divided into two castes: major workers who act as soldiers to guard the nest and minor workers who forage for food and take care of the young.”
“After two or more years, the queen begins to produce winged males and females who will leave to begin other colonies of carpenter ants.”
Many thanks to Dan for that info! Now we have to get to our fly tying bench and put together a few of those Amazon Ants in size 8 to be ready for that hatch, which we’ve seen several times but have not been successful in catching any of the fish feeding on them.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: George Taylor at Taylor’s Trading Post caters to a vast majority of the ice anglers that seem to throng to the nearby Bellamy Reservoir in Madbury and is always in awe at the amount of fishing pressure and how well this pond stands up under that pressure.
“Okay, we’ll have to admit that the average size of our crappie probably has dropped a bit, but the sheer numbers of them that come off this pond year around is amazing. We actually have several large families that subsistence-fish here and they are not fussy what they catch or how big they are. It’s a matter of feeding their family and they’ve been doing it here year after year without any measurable effect on the fish population.”
This reservoir has quite an assortment of fish, including some huge eels that do get caught occasionally in the warmer seasons, unknown numbers of crappie, a great population of large sunfish, largemouth bass that each year have been into the ten pound range, pickerel of all sizes and yellow perch, that never seem to grow large here. There’s even an occasional native brookie caught here that has migrated down a feeder brook that does have a nice population of brook trout.”
There are several other local ponds that produce some good ice fishing action where the average-sizes might be bit larger than here, but the number of fish caught always seem to tip the scale to the Bellamy Reservoir.
At Suds-n-Soda Sports in Greenland, Master Guide Tim Moore reports that the white perch fishing at Lake Winnipesaukee had slowed down considerably. “But that usually happens mid-season and then picks up a lot at the end. We’ve also had some unconfirmed reports about scattered catches of up to 30 smelts coming from the Squamscott River in Stratham but we have some doubts about their authenticity.”
“Crappie fishing has been holding up at Pawtuckaway Lake in Nottingham and Raymond as well as on the Bellamy Reservoir. Greenwood Lake in Kingston is also a good bet for nice-sized crappie but it’s an early morning bite. Later than nine o’clock and you’d think there wasn’t a crappie in the lake.”
At AJ’s Bait and Tackle in Meredith on Lake Winnipesaukee, Alan Nute says there’s been the usual mid-season slow down but predicts that the white perch and lake trout fishing will pick up and that also during the last days of the ice season some big rainbow trout are always caught along the shoreline. Salmon eggs and live shiners seem to be the best baits.”
“A huge laker was caught from First Connecticut Lake in Pittsburgh, which could be a lake record. It was caught on one of our perch bucktail jigs we produce here. Also over at Sunapee Lake there had been some nice lakers and white perch taken.”
MASSACHUSETTS: Award winning outdoor writer Marc Folco reports: “Southeastern Mass. still is offering hard water fishing at most area ponds. This past weekend, there was a top layer of four inches of frozen slush with six to eight inches of hard ice below that. It appears that with the lingering cold this week, ice conditions should remain ample for the coming weekend, into early next week.”
“Big chain pickerel are a favorite as they are voracious feeders under the ice. At the Bristol County Ice Masters annual ice fishing derby held on Long Pond, Lakeville, on Feb. 9, the top three places in the pickerel category weighed enough to qualify for pins in the Mass. Sportfishing Awards program and included two fish over five pounds, and one just shy of that five-pound mark. Several other pickerel weighed-in during the derby topped four pounds.”
“Yellow perch are another ice fishing favorite with lots of action on tip-ups baited with small shiners. They're abundant in most of the shallow warm-water ponds and the deeper cold water ponds, and of course - the two-story waters. The perch are in pre-spawn mode, the females plump with eggs, and they're feeding actively.”
“One technique to add more fish to your bucket is, after you've caught a perch on a tip-up, leave that tip-up out and start jigging the hole. Often, there will be several more fish right below and you can sometimes jig-up another half-dozen, a lot of fun on a light ice rod. In the winter, when their flesh is firm, not much else beats a dinner of fried yellow perch fillets,” Marc ended.
Because of the inherent time restrictions of gathering fresh, up-to-date information, editing and producing this report in a timely manner, occasional errors or marginal information may slip by us. We try our hardest to provide accurate information. We urge readers to use this report as a tool to increase their fishing pleasure and not to rely on as their sole resource. First or second hand information is offered by fishing guides, commercial fishing charters or party boats, bait and tackle dealers, well known successful anglers and state and federal fisheries and natural resource law enforcement officials. We also welcome and use reports forwarded to us by fishermen that use this report.