STANDISH — Clayton Loubier sat over a 4-foot slot in the ice inside his windowless shack near the shore of Sebago Lake on Sunday.

“Come on togey,” Loubier said, jigging his fishing line.

In a normal year, Loubier would have been done ice fishing weeks ago. But Maine isn’t coming off a normal winter.

Traditionally, April 1 is considered the start of open-water fishing in the state. But an unusually cold winter has pushed the symbolic start back because most of Maine’s lakes and ponds remain iced over.

Bad news for those who want to fish on open water. Good news for diehard ice fishermen. There are as many as 310,000 licensed fishermen in Maine, according to 2013 data, the most recent available.

In years past, the ice fishing season – regardless of winter’s length – ended on March 31 at the start of the open-water fishing season. But a change in the law in 2010 has allowed for both types of fishing on lakes and ponds in southern Maine in any month of the year if conditions allow.

Since the law took effect, only last year proved cold enough for ice fishing to continue into April. In three of the four years before this one, the Sebago Lake Rotary Ice Fishing Derby in February was canceled because mild winter weather led to poor ice conditions.

But after historic cold this February, lakes and ponds in southern Maine are still frozen. Sebago Lake still has 2 to 3 feet of ice cover.

“I think the ice fishing opportunities will persist well into April,” southern Maine fisheries biologist Francis Brautigam said. “Other than settling snow, there has been relatively mild degradation of the ice, but unusually cold conditions at night are slowing the ice melt process. Travel conditions (over ice) are currently very good, in general.”

WARMER FISHING DAYS AHEAD

By law, April 1 remains the first day that anglers can fish in rivers and streams in Maine. But the date is mostly symbolic for open-water fishermen in the southern part of the state.

“I’ll be at the Songo Locks in Naples, fishing to open water,” said Stephen Sparaco, a Registered Maine Guide from Standish who was surveying Sebago on Sunday.

State biologists expect fishing to be slow in rivers and streams. Rivers are cold at this time of year, so fish are less active and feed less, said Brian Lewis, southern Maine regional fisheries biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

“It’s not that it’s not worth going out (to open-water) fish. I know people who fish streams right through the winter (special regulations allow fishing on some streams during the winter) with some degree of luck. But those fishermen are extremely good at what they do. The casual angler won’t see that kind of success early in the season,” Lewis said.

After the snow pack melts and the rivers and streams warm up, fish will become more active and the fishing will improve.

For this and other reasons, state biologists don’t start stocking until later in the spring. Limited access because of snow and ice is another reason the stocking trucks won’t roll for another month.

“I wouldn’t expect there to be much catching (now). First of all, we don’t start stocking until later, and that’s going to be even later this year,” Lewis said.

SHACKS MUST COME OFF APRIL 1

But ice fishermen are expected to be out in good numbers for at least a few more weeks. In Maine, ice fishermen can’t get enough of catching land-locked salmon and lake trout, also called togue.

“Ice fishing is always a treat,” said 79-year-old Walter Grant of Gorham, jigging over a hole in Sebago on Sunday. “We don’t stop.”

Though ice fishing can continue, the state requires anglers to remove their shacks from all lakes and ponds by Wednesday. Portable shelters are still allowed.

Ervin Lizotte, of Lebanon, encountered crowds of ice fisherman two weeks ago on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and was happy to find only scattered fishermen Sunday on Sebago. He will keep ice fishing as long as he can.

“I like ice fishing. There is not a lot of noise on the lake right now. You don’t have the boats and Jet Skis, the crowds,” he said.

Many others who came out Sunday to fish on Sebago said they would keep dropping a line through the ice for as long as they can.

The option to continue their winter sport is a treat, same as it would be for those who like pond hockey or Alpine skiing.

Peter Grant of South Portland will ice fish well into April, just as he did last year at his camp in Guilford.

“It’s a nice opportunity,” he said. “It gives you another option. At my camp in Guilford there could be ice until May. Last year I fished two weekends in April.”


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