March 23, 2013

Ice fishing feels the heat

Thin ice, prompting cancellations, has organizers fearing the Sebago Lake derby is slipping away.

By Deirdre Fleming
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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An ice fisherman on Kennebunk Pond in Lyman on Wednesday makes his way to his ice-fishing shack, which was located about 100 yards from open water near the public boat launch.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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The ice on Sebago Lake was thick enough to support an ice-fishing derby in 2010, when Paul Willette of Cape Elizabeth caught an 11-pound, 9-ounce togue, or lake trout.

2010 Staff File Photo/Derek Davis

Additional Photos Below

Moreover, Kistner said, such warm periods are not unusual.

In the 1940s and 1950s, there were also stretches when average winter temperatures were warmer than the 30-year average. From 1948 to 1953, average winter temperatures were all around 28 degrees, but in 1947-48, the average was 18.9 degrees.

"It is tough to say whether we are stuck in a trend or whether temperatures will get colder," Kistner said. "Last year was one of the warmest on record, but if you look up in Alaska, last year was one of the coldest on record. Definitely the past three years, including last year, were warm. However, this winter has been fairly close to average."

This year the ice was poor across southern Maine, said Sgt. Tim Spahr with the Maine Warden Service.

"My observations are purely anecdotal, but I would say there are less ice (fishing) shacks out this year," said Spahr. "I crossed Long Pond in Limerick just a few days ago and I started to get concerned in the middle. I was probably standing in 10 inches of slush. Under normal conditions this time of year, that would have been frozen. Conditions are poor and the ice is thin."

And regional fisheries biologist Francis Brautigam in Gray said it is because there have been mild winters in southern Maine and along the coast the past several years that the state opened more stocked lakes and ponds to year-round open-water fishing in 2012. The additional year-round waters were added so anglers could legally cast a line during the traditional ice-fishing season, in case there was no ice.

"We could see the evolution and the trend, the need to increase fishing opportunity. We were already heading down that path offering more fishing opportunities in stocked fisheries where there were no wild fish. In southern and coastal Maine where we have more temperate seasonal conditions, it's not like we have a lot of wild fish resources," Brautigam said.


For derby planners, the weather poses a dilemma.

On the one hand, McFarland said, the Sebago Lake derby packs the small stores around the lakes region as fishermen come to fish for the big togue for which the lake is known. On the other, the lake's big bay has frozen over just once in the past four years.

And while the Rotary Club has staged a companion derby on a statewide and county-wide basis in recent years, these don't compare to the Sebago derby. Sebago boasts lake trout as big as 30 inches long.

"There was a gentleman who has a place on Sebago Lake and the day we canceled the Sebago portion this year, he told us he had 12 people lined up to come stay for the weekend and all but two backed out," McFarland said. "That speaks to the lure of Sebago. People like to fish for togue, and Sebago has togue. We're trying to make the best decision for the goals of the community and the goals of the club. The derby is a lot of work."

To the north and east, the ice-fishing season has been fine, and winter in Maine looks like winter in Maine.

At Maine's biggest lake next to Greenville, ice-fishing fans were out last weekend on Moosehead Lake, said regional state biologist Tim Obrey. And while the season got going a bit late this year, it was business as usual after the second week of January.

"It's very good conditions. Right now there is probably 3 feet of ice over most of the lake, a full auger blade," Obrey said Tuesday.

And in the Down East region, where some of Maine's most popular ice-fishing lakes draw fishermen, crowds were out in February in full force, said state biologist Greg Burr.

"The only thing limiting us is traveling conditions and the price of gas," Burr said. "But this time of year, usually they go farther north to fish. At East Grand, there is still 20 inches of good ice."

Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

Twitter: Flemingpph

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Additional Photos

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Derby participants turn out for the Sebago Lake Rotary Club Derby on Feb. 26, 2010.

2010 Staff File Photo/Derek Davis


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