SMELT FISHING CAMPS lined up on the Cathance River in Bowdoinham.

SMELT FISHING CAMPS lined up on the Cathance River in Bowdoinham.


The recent frigid temperatures bring with them the return of ice fishing for smelt in Maine. The shacks are filling up fast as people start to look for fun, affordable ways to enjoy the winter weather.

For Jim McPherson, owner of Jim’s Camps in Bowdoinham, it’s the start of a busy winter. McPherson placed his first camps on the Cathance River early in the week, and Jim’s Camps began taking reservations on Wednesday.

“The phone has been ringing off the hook,” said McPherson.

The camps were already full Friday morning with people eager to get on the frozen river. Jim’s Camps currently has 17 camps out on the river, with three more to be added soon. McPherson has owned Jim’s site for 20 years, and has been in the smelt fishing business for nearly 40. Smelt fishing is a lifelong passion for him. He recognizes the signs of a good season, and expects one this year.

“It’s much more enjoyable if I can put the camps on (the river) and leave them on,” said McPherson.

“This year it doesn’t look like I’m going to have any problem keeping them on. The next week or two it’s supposed to stay cold. Two days ago I cut a camp in and we had a foot of ice.”

McPherson begins the process of placing the camps on the river once there is at least six inches of ice. If the weather cooperates through February, McPherson won’t have to go through the process of removing the camps and then putting them back on the river this season. The business can already make for some long days for the hard working owner. Reservations of the camps are based on the tides, at six hours at a time. Jim’s Camps had all three tides booked on Friday and three on Saturday.

“I don’t get a lot of sleep,” McPherson said, laughing. “Every six hours, I run right around the clock.”

Jim’s Camps attracts a combination of tourists and locals. McPherson has seen customers from all over the world during his time owning the site. He said it is common for smelt fishing enthusiasts to make the drive up from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York to stay and fish for a couple of days. For $60, four people can enjoy one of the camps. Local residents were out Friday to experience one of the first days of the season.

“It gets you out of the house in the middle of the winter,” said David Rollins of Lisbon.

McPherson expects plenty of fish. He said a one gallon limit implemented last year by the Maine Department of Marine Resources led to a better season.

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