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With cold and snow and winter hard upon us now there’s nothing else to do but... go fishing! There are folks who think the best way to spend a frosty January day is to sit by the wood stove and wring their hands in angst, but Maine’s outdoorsmen have a better plan. What better way to beat the symptoms of cabin fever than to get outdoors, cut a few holes in the ice and fish?
Most of the lakes and ponds in our area are now open for fishing for all species, so it’s just a matter of deciding what kind of fishing you want to do. Most folks prefer trout and salmon, so that means a trip to nearby Schoodic or Sebec Lake, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, Moosehead Lake.
If there is safe ice you should have no trouble finding a place to fish. All of these lakes are big and the options are endless. Look for a secluded cove or the lee side of a point and get ready for business.
Salmon are perhaps the easiest species to attack. Simply cut a hole in the ice, skim away the loose chips, suspend a lively minnow about two feet under the ice and then... wait! Salmon are busy, active feeders that spend a lot of time moving about just under the ice. When they find your bait they won’t hesitate to take it, so be sure your hooks are sharp and that you have enough slack line out to overcome the initial shock of that first, energetic hit.
For some reason, the first strikes often seem to come within minutes of dropping that first bait, so be ready. I have actually had salmon hit a minnow as I was busy setting up my tip-ups. One such fish so surprised me that I had my tip-up pulled out of my hands! On another occasion I had a bunch of hand-made flip-down traps that were difficult to set up because they needed to be stuck into a pile of ice chips or snow, and neither was readily available. I dropped the bait down the hole and then set the trap on the ice for a moment while I scraped together enough ice chips to created a suitable mound for the trap. Well, just then a fish hit and the trap skittered across the ice and down into the hole, lost for good! I’d barely had a minnow on the hook for 30 seconds!
Of course, from this I learned to make sure all was ready and in order before I put any baits down the hole, but you get the idea. In most cases, if you put more than 10 feet of line out for salmon your baits will be too low for them.
Brook trout may be found at any depth, depending upon the size of the lake. They may be in 10 feet of water or they may be as deep as 50 feet or more. For this reason, it’s best to start out with multiple sets. Put one bait down 10 feet, another at 20 feet, a third at 40 feet, etc., until you see a pattern of strikes that tells you at what depth most of the trout are holding. Then, you simply reset your tip-ups to concentrate on the proper depth.
Lake trout are normally found at or near the bottom, although in some cases (such as when the smelts are swarming in shallow water) you can find them very close to the surface. I have seen big togue (the Maine term for lake trout) taken at Wassookeag Lake in Dexter by smelters fishing in the shallow cove to the north off Route 23, and that water is surprisingly shallow – easily waded by summertime anglers.
However, most winter togue are taken off the bottom. This could mean 50, 75, 100 or more feet in depth on some lakes. The standard routine is to drop a large, live sucker or cut bait straight to the bottom, and then lifting the bait a foot or so off. Keep in mind that, of the three species, togue are the least active and least lively. You can get a strike in the first few seconds that your bait is down, or two hours later. In fact, it is always recommended that you play each tip-up as if a togue were on it, because many times a big fish will simply engulf the bait and then sit there all afternoon. You may not even know you have a fish on till you start hauling in your gear at dusk and find a 20-pound lake trout on the other end of the line!
To enjoy a good catch, always have sharp hooks and lively minnows. Salmon and most trout are not interested in dead or listless baits. In fact, I saw a fellow catch a salmon once that we never hooked! The fish was chasing the minnow and followed it right up out of the hole! The salmon landed with a splash and a flop on top of the ice and the minnow was lying beside it, still alive and twitching. About 20 other fishermen saw the spectacle, too, so it gave us all something to talk about while we waited for the next flag.
Trout, salmon or togue – it doesn’t matter what species you go for but the point is to go! Looks like we’re in for a long, cold and snowy winter, and that means a lot of people are going to shut themselves indoors – perfect victims for cabin fever. Even a bad day on the ice is more healthful for you than sitting huddled in the dark of the living room. Find an excuse to go outside and make it a day trip. The days are short and the sun doesn’t warm things up much, but some daylight is better for you than none!
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