When I was in grammar school, Maine’s statewide open-water fishing season opened on April 15, except in Aroostook County where it started even later.

In fact, prior to the last half of the 20th century, state officials across most of the Northeast had chosen April 15 as the fishing opener, in part because of the belief weather would be better than in late March or even early April.

In Maine, April 15 meant the average air temperature had risen considerably, much more snow had melted and ice was going out, particularly along the edges of lakes and ponds and in front of tributaries. These pluses excited anglers, firing them up to go fishing.

In the late 1950s or early ’60s, Maine’s old Department of Inland Fish and Game changed the fishing opener to April 1, creating lots of discussion at the time. People mostly talked about how April Fools’ Day in Maine looked more like winter, so fishing felt like an April Fools’ joke.

When Maine’s fishing season started April 15, opening day generated more excitement than after the initial shift to April 1. However, that earlier date grew on Mainers over the years.

Most Mainers born 20 years after me have no recollection of the April 15 opener, and why should they? However, the older generation lived through the era, and some of them like me vividly recall those days.

In the 1970s, Maine fishermen pushed hard for year-round fishing. I know. As a member of the now defunct Gray Ghost Chapter of Trout Unlimited, I was one of the activists doing the shoving.

When fellow TU member Bill Fosnaught and I met with Commissioner Maynard Marsh at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Augusta office, the commissioner adamantly opposed the idea, and one reason for the opposition kept cropping up in that encounter and subsequent ones. License sales had plummeted in states that adopted a 12-month angling season.

At the time, leaders like Marsh believed that a specific date for a season opener instigated license purchases just prior to April 1. Without this symbolic time frame, anglers felt no impulse to head to the town office.

Whatever the reason, a year-round season in other states did indeed cause license numbers to decline. This makes many people curious to see if Maine experiences a similar fate next year.

However, the change may have little impact in 2011, and here’s why:

Unless there is another piece of emergency legislation in Augusta, the statewide angling opener remains April 1 in rivers, streams and brooks, as well as in ponds and lakes in northern Oxford, Franklin, Somerset, Piscataquis and Aroostook counties. In short, nothing has changed in waters affecting a huge number of anglers, particularly folks traveling to the ever popular North Country. They still have motivation to buy a license.

The season will open year-round in ponds and lakes in the bottom third of the state, including in York, southern Oxford, Cumberland, Androscoggin, Sagadahoc, Kennebec, Lincoln, Waldo, Knox, Penobscot, Hancock and Washington counties. Most of Maine’s population lives in this vast region, so it may make a difference in sales there.

Some opposing final thoughts on future license sales:

1. Nature may instigate a license-buying flurry in the area of the state with a year-round season.

n In years with more normal early spring weather patterns, ice-out mania may instigate folks to buy a license as ice leaves ponds and lakes.

n Also, hard-core anglers know that fishing in rivers, streams and brooks improves when black flies swarm and alders reach the size of a mouse’s ear. These natural phenomena may influence anglers to purchase licenses.

n Three other catalysts may also spur buying for folks in the know: White perch spawn two weeks after ice out, Hendricksons hatch when water temperatures reach 53 degrees for three days in a row and black bass move onto spawning beds in late May.

2. The opposing thought? When officials adopted year-round angling in other states years ago, folks knew about these harbingers of good fishing, but license sales still suffered. It just wasn’t a big enough impetus to get folks to part with their money.

It will interest me and surely others to note public reaction over this new law.

 

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]