What a difference a year makes.
In January and February 2010, our typical northern New England weather took a holiday as warm temperatures and sunny days prevailed.
Then, in early March, spring sailed into the bottom third of Maine on southwest winds, so from March 5 onward, I bicycled nearly every day and fished a few hours each week.
This winter, snowstorms and brutally low temperatures have dominated, creating descriptions from a John Greenleaf Whittier fireside poem. Whether it is right or wrong, the past three months have slowed talk about global warming for sure.
Someone like me notices mild winters and early springs because open-water-fishing topics dominate my e-mails, phone calls and chance meetings in stores. In contrast, an average Maine white season influences folks to concentrate more on ice-fishing.
Last winter, anglers took advantage of unseasonable warmth, and often, these folks fly-fished or cast lures with ultra-light spinning rods. They caught enough trout to keep them interested and wanted to talk about their adventures to a kindred spirit.
Bait anglers fish open water less in winter than the other two groups do, surprising me, but the baiting crowd claims they ice-fish and save open-water trips for later spring.
Last winter, Steve Duren of Waterville often called with news about his latest fly-fishing escapade.
A year later, I have not heard a peep from this skilled fly rodder.
Tough winters such as this one keep people off a few rivers and streams where open-water fishing remains legal 365 days a year. Shell ice on the shores of flowing water kills this sport because fly rodders cannot get near the channel without fear of breaking through the thin mantle.
Shell ice offers early-season anglers a special horror, too. If folks crash through, the current may sweep them underneath the ice. It seldom happens, but the potential lurks like a nightmare.
When I fly-fish in winter, it’s sometimes tempting to stand on shell ice to cast into open water, but according to page 11 in the current State of Maine Open Water & Ice Fishing Laws and Rules booklet, that’s illegal — one of those rules that save us from ourselves.
I wouldn’t walk on shell ice over fast-flowing water, but often, gentle currents spill over brook and stream banks — and freeze.
It’s possible to approach the main channel on ice, slip off it into the gelid water and cast.
More than once, this plan has ended with me breaking through ice, always a scare until my feet hit bottom. Occasionally, it’s deep enough to leave me standing in chest-deep water, which makes the heart pump like a trip hammer.
Wearing waders saves me from a soaking and hypothermia.
On April Fool’s Day in 2004, Jolie, my intrepid companion, and I were fishing a tiny brook east of Augusta, and spring flooding had really raised the level, making it a full-blown stream.
As I shuffled across ice to reach a channel and frozen hummock for standing, ice broke under my feet with a loud crashing and splashing sound.
As soon as my feet hit bottom, the late Lawrence French of Windsor popped to mind.
As a rule before casting, he would sneak up on a trout-brook pool as if it were a trophy buck, but occasionally, he would claim that anglers must wake brookies up before the first cast.
That morning, I awoke the brookies all right. Sloshing water beneath the ice reached the middle of the brook, so in addition to the breaking ice, the surface rose and fell several times in the channel.
After I reached the hummock and cast a size 10, 2x-long Mickey Finn, a favorite opening-day bucktail, a 7-inch brookie grabbed the gaudy fly, a giant for this water. The trout would have impressed French.
I always release the season’s first fish — a superstition.
That morning, I let several more smaller trout go, a good omen for the 2004 season.
Central Maine anglers have three year-round rivers open in March, which often produce before spring run-off ruins early spring angling:
• Cobbossee Stream from Cobbossee Lake in Manchester to the Kennebec River in Gardiner.
• Nezinscot River from Turner Mill dam to Androscoggin River.
• St. George River from Lake St. George in Liberty to head of tide in Warren.
Anglers concentrate on the St. George, where the outlet of Sennebec Pond in Appleton holds browns through winter. Another St. George honey hole lies in Payson Park in Warren. IFW stocks brown trout there, which creates an artificial “sea run” trout fishery.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at: