From his office beside Crystal Lake in Gray, state fisheries biologist Francis Brautigam on Wednesday got the email every fisherman in southern Maine has waited for this spring.
“It said the ice on the big bay on Sebago just went out,” Brautigam reported.
But don’t grab your rods and flies just yet.
After this winter, one of the harshest on record, the spring fishing season has been pushed back. Ice is still coating lakes and ponds across the state.
What that means to bait dealers is there’s been a very delayed start to spring fishing season. For fishermen, it’s making for a long wait after one of the longest winters.
“From what I’m informed, most of the lakes and ponds are holding ice,” Brautigam said of southern Maine.
“My expectation is there will probably be ice out by the start of the smelt runs.”
The smelt typically start running in Sebago Lake in late April and early May, Brautigam said – a month after fishermen normally have begun fishing.
Elsewhere in Maine, regional state fisheries biologists say there still is significant ice, and the stocking trucks – the real signal to start fishing in central and southern Maine – have yet to roll out in any big numbers.
In Little Ossipee Lake in York County, ice was out last week. But most of Cumberland County resembled most of the state, Brautigam said.
“I go for a ride when I leave work each evening down around Windham. Nobody is on the brooks and streams,” said Dana Eastman, who’s sold bait at The Tackle Shop in Portland for 20 years.
“There was one story of a fly fisherman who landed a 20-inch brown trout on the Royal River. But he had hooked it in the fall, and said it was haunting him all winter. He threw his line across the ice and into the water and the fish came up and took it. He swears it’s the same fish. ”
By comparison, last April was a fishing frenzy, Eastman said.
But this year, it’s more than just the chilly temperatures. Waters are simply inaccessible to open-water fishermen.
“Guys will go out and throw on 15 layers of clothes and sit in a boat with their hands in their pocket. But they can’t get out on the boat ramps,” Eastman said.
Winthrop bait dealer Dave Bubier said it’s the same in central Maine, where the lakes district is practically an ice sheet.
“I’ve probably done 10 percent of the sales I had done this time last year,” Bubier said. “It’s a weird limbo period: Too late to ice fish, and too early to fish. I haven’t seen a boat out yet.”
Regional state fisheries biologist Jason Seiders in Sidney said this spring is not unusual, it’s just closer to the springs of 20 and 30 years ago.
“What we’re running into is a more traditional spring,” said Seiders, who grew up in Lincoln County. “It will be another week before ponds ice out. Now all these rivers are flooded into trees. It’s greatly delayed the stocking effort.”
However, it could mean something good up north. Whereas in the southern half of the state the spring fishing season likely will be truncated, up north where there are cold-water fisheries, all that melting ice could extend the spring season.
Regional state biologist Dave Howatt in Strong said the ice on Rangeley – a good 30 inches thick – may not go out until mid-May. That would mean the lake would be so cold in June that fishing might stay fast into July, when it usually slows down.
So in the mountains the spring season could run into summer.
“That’s one bonus,” Eastman said.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: