Hello, fellow fishermen!

This time of year it’s time to ice fish or go south. Ice is much closer.

Ice fishing attracts a huge number of folks, in fact, it seems that there are more folks on the ice on given water body than you’d see on open water. Does Maine have a boat shortage? An IF&W survey taken in 2010 showed that the actual numbers are almost equivalent with open water fishing winning out over ice fishing by only 2 percent.

Like many activities, it’s about the experience. Some days when you are out by yourself, a frozen lake is as serene a setting as you can imagine – I’ve heard folks tell of going into a kind of reverie. When you’ve got company on the ice, that’s a good thing, too, for the social aspects.

You hope for flags and fish, and for many folks it’s time for pan fish. Many area ponds provide yellow and white perch fishing that can be excellent, and it’s hard for me to decide which is better fried up with a coating of flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper. The yellow perch are a crisper flavor, the white perch richer. Either out of our cold, clean water is hard to beat.

I was amazed to find folks fishing in the Belgrades targeting black crappie, a fish that has been illegally introduced fairly recently from more southern areas. Another good food fish, I don’t think they hold up to our perch – but then that’s a matter of taste.

Pike are a real draw for many anglers. With fish over 40 inches not that uncommon, it’s easy to understand their attraction. Illegally introduced to their Maine locations, they are a threat to trout fisheries. The best example of this is Long Pond in the Belgrades. More than 20 years ago, I saw one of the largest landlocked salmon I’d ever seen taken right after ice out on a smelt. Introduced pike have since taken over and salmon are no longer an option there. Please leave fish species where you find them. There are many places you can go for pike and bass – our trout habitat is special and can be destroyed by invasives – especially in the age of climate change.

Pike are fine table fare as well. Although the y-bones make them daunting for some to clean, the easy way out is to simply take a filet off each side beginning at the rear of the dorsal fin back to the tail and a filet off the top from the back of the head back to where the dorsal fin starts. There are two smaller filets available from the remaining sides. Locate the lateral line and you’ve found the y-bones – take one filet above and another below. Done correctly, these are all boneless firm white meat that is fine table fare that shows up frequently on European menus.

My rule of thumb is not to kill fish taken through the ice that you’d rather catch in open water. I am reminded of when I was the Scoutmaster in Harpswell and neighbor Dave McCormack would organize and equip a yearly ice fishing outing for the boys. One trip, one of the boys had a nice largemouth bass up to the hole, but the wire hook bent and the fish came off. Sluggish in the cold water, the fish just stayed there in the hole and Dave reached down and grabbed it by the lip. I couldn’t help but think how much more fun it would have been to catch that fish in the summer when it would have been active and acrobatic. Still, I highly recommend ice-fishing outings to Scouts and other children’s groups. You could keep watch on the boys wherever they ran, and the day quickly became a blur of snowball fights, wrestling in the snow, and boys running from flag to flag to see fish. We often brought a Coleman stove, and cooked and ate what we caught right there on the ice. Some fun!

If you haven’t gone before, find a friend who will take you and get out there on the ice and enjoy – you might get hooked! If you are ready to strike out on your own and need gear, bait or advice on where to go, try Dave Garcia at Naples Bait and Tackle. It’s easy to forget licenses first time out – he sells fishing, snowmobile and other licenses you don’t want to be caught without.

The Sebago Lake Rotary Ice Fishing Derbies, Liberty Family Foundation/USO Crystal Lake Derby, and Royal River Rod & Gun Club Derby all provide additional interest and incentive to get out – and help some good causes doing it.

See you on the ice!

Steve Heinz is an avid fisherman who lives in Cumberland and is Conservation Chair for Sebago Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Comments and questions are welcome [email protected]

Ice fishing derbies, such as the kids derby on Lower Range Pond in Poland, provide additional interest and incentive for fishermen through the winter months. Photo courtesy of Sebago Lake Rotary Ice Fishing Derbies

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