CASCO — Peter Brawn stood atop a good 12 inches of hard ice on Sebago Lake and declared Tuesday that he’d rather be casting his fly rod, as he had all winter in Florida.
“But it doesn’t work so well on the ice,” the Cape Elizabeth resident said with a smirk. “And I don’t normally get a chance to ice fish because we come back from Florida the third week of March. So this year is kind of an exception.”
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That was the thinking Tuesday among a few intrepid ice fishermen who celebrated the traditional start of open-water fishing season by jigging a line from lake ice rather than casting from the shore.
Historically, April 1 meant the end of ice fishing season and the start of Maine’s open-water season, the first day of the year when anglers could cast from a shore or a boat to open water. That changed in 2010, when new laws backed by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife made it legal to fish in open water or on ice at any time, when conditions allowed, on most lakes and ponds in Maine’s 12 southern counties.
But around Portland, where can you ice fish in April? After this winter’s deep freeze, just about everywhere.
For the first time since the new fishing laws were passed, fishermen are able to ice fish not only on small lakes and ponds, but on 28,770-acre Sebago Lake. And a handful were out in the sun taking advantage on Tuesday.
“They’re probably a mile out,” said Jeremy Goodwin, an avid ice fisherman, nodding toward two anglers as he jigged near the frozen shoreline of Sebago Lake in Casco.
The long, unusually cold winter made it possible for the Sebago Lake Ice Fishing Derby to be held for the first time in three years. And while the derby was far from what it was in 2005, when more than 2,000 fishermen competed, organizers declared this year’s event a success and said it will continue.
The new laws allowing later ice fishing in southern Maine were passed because this part of the state has fewer wild trout and salmon fisheries, and most waters are stocked with hatchery fish. In northern Maine, where wild trout and salmon fisheries thrive, tougher fishing laws and a later start to the open-water season remain, to minimize fishing pressure.
There are exceptions to the law in the southern part of the state, such as Lake Auburn in Auburn, but open-water fishing is allowed all year on most lakes and ponds.
But ice fishing in April? That depends on how long winter hangs around.
“The one thing to keep in mind this year, we never got nice March weather, days in the 40s and 50s,” said Francis Brautigam, a fisheries biologist in southern Maine for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “I think there are still people out ice fishing. The conditions are fantastic.
“If you really want to find brooks and rivers and streams to fish (in open water) … even the moderate-sized streams are socked in,” he said. “There aren’t too many places you can take advantage of the start of open-water season.”
Normally on April 1, fly fishermen can be found casting to rocky pools. Not this year, given that snow melt and last weekend’s rain created less-than-ideal conditions for stream fishing.
The Mousam River in Kennebunk, a brown-trout fishery, was running like a white-water course. The Presumpscot River at the outlet of Sebago Lake was a sheet of ice. And at the Songo Locks in Sebago Lake State Park, only four fishermen were out at 11 a.m. – and they didn’t hang around long.
“In Wells, everything was frozen,” said Gary Leech of Wells as he cast from the locks. “There’s usually a dozen or more people here, because it’s good fishing here with all these tributaries running together.”
About 100 yards from the northeast shore of Sebago Lake, at the state park entrance, ice fishermen hauled out sleds from 7 a.m. until noon.
“I was surprised there were not more ice fishermen out today. It’s beautiful,” said Brawn, out on Sebago Lake. “And there is great solid ice. I’d say there is another two weeks of ice fishing season.”
Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: [email protected]Twitter: FlemingPph