– Spring is coming. It says so right on the calendar.

But since it’s not quite here and your favorite lake is probably still frozen over, why not enjoy the last of the winter weekends and head onto the ice one last time this season.

Experienced ice anglers know that as the sun gets higher and the days get longer, ice fishing action picks up for warm-water species such as bass, perch, pike and pickerel. In fact, March is prime time to ice fish for pike.

Northern pike are not native to Maine, but were illegally introduced into the Belgrade Lakes. They were first discovered by Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife fishery biologists in the 1980s, and based on the size and growth rate of the species, biologists believe they were illegally stocked in the ’70s.

They have spread through the Belgrade chain of lakes, and also have been moved into other waterways throughout the state. Biologists and anglers alike bemoan the fact that this fish has wreaked havoc with native fisheries in lakes and ponds, but also realize the opportunity to catch a 20-pound fish in a freshwater lake has developed into more than just a cult following.

Those who fish regularly for pike know there is no better time to fish than March, as pike prepare to spawn.

“Pike will concentrate in the shallows as they get ready to spawn,” said Scott Davis, a fisheries biologist with Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Pike spawn on vegetation, such as pickerel weed or clumps of cat tail roots. “They love those shallow, weedy coves, and you’ll find them in water that is as shallow as 3 to 4 feet.”

As they prepare to spawn, they congregate, and a ripe female will find that she will have several male suitors around her.

“Pre-spawn, pike are active feeders, but during the spawn, no,” said Davis, “It can get frustrating during the spawn because you can see them, but can’t get them to bite.”

Depending on the length of winter, pike will sometimes spawn under the ice in late March, so if you want to fish while they are feeding and still aggressive, now is the time.

Anglers need to rig their traps accordingly. Pike can grow very big, and this big, bad wolf of the water has very large, sharp teeth. Steel leaders are a necessity. No thin wire hooks either. Use sturdy hooks that stand up to long, extended fights.

And use big bait.

“The bigger the better, and large golden shiners are a great choice. Really though, any large bait can work well,” said Davis. “It’s almost like the reason they attack it is that they feel it is another pike moving in to spawn.”

If you are looking to fish for pike, there are several lakes in the central Maine area that hold the fish. Davis suggests Great Pond, Messalonskee Lake, Long Pond, North Pond, Lake Annabessacook, Lake Cobbosseecontee and Sabattus Pond as great choices for pike fishing this time of year.

“Get into those weedy, shallow coves, that’s where you want to be for pike,” said Davis.

As a biologist, Davis has seen the size of the fish that those lakes can produce.

“On Long Pond in 1995, we caught one pike that was 56 inches long. It was a huge female filled with eggs. In Messalonskee, we always see a few 20 pounders in our surveys,” said Davis, who sees are an increasing number of anglers fishing for pike.

“Pike fishing is becoming more and more popular. I did a sportsman’s show in Massachusetts, and I was amazed at how many people travel up here to fish for pike,” he said.

Still, it is bittersweet, since these fish were illegally introduced, and the cost of catching a 20-pound trophy pike is a devastated native fishery, such as the now-scarce landlocked salmon in Great Pond.

“Unfortunately, where does it end? They are all over the place — it’s like they have wings,” said Davis.

Mark Latti is a former public information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and a registered Maine Guide. He can be reached at:

[email protected]