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Snow and cold notwithstanding, we are about to turn the corner on another winter. We are just weeks away from another opening day of fishing season (April 1) and the spring turkey season opener is not long after that.
A lot of folks have had their fill of winter, snow shoveling and rutted roads, but let’s not be so hasty to wish our lives away! There is plenty to do outdoors in March, and if any part of winter could be considered “pleasant,” this is the month that leads the list.
The end of the annual ice-fishing season usually brings with it warmer temperatures, longer days and a balmy feel in the wind that assures us that winter’s back is finally broken. A March foray to a local trout or salmon lake is certainly in order, if only because the fishing is easy and there are still plenty of brookies and landlocks waiting down below for the chance to gobble up your offering of lively minnows, smelts or shiners.
The easiest species to target this month is the salmon. Known to cruise the water just below the ice, it’s often possible to catch these tasty fish on nothing more than a 3-inch minnow dangled just 6 feet below the surface of the ice. It’s rarely necessary to go more than 10 feet down, which is a blessing on some of our lakes, which can be more than 100 feet deep! Putting a line down that far can take several minutes, and then every time you get a wind flag, a nibble or a missed strike, you have to haul it all up, store it neatly on the ice, re-bait the hook and drop it all back down again – a time-consuming job, to be sure!
With salmon, it’s in-and-out quick. Place a lively minnow on a No. 6 or No. 8 hook, drop it down two or three feet below the ice and you’re in business. If salmon are nearby they’ll hit within seconds! There have been times when I dropped a bait into the water and actually saw a fish hit it – not even giving me time to set up the trap properly!
Plus, a truly joyous aspect of the landlocks’ personality is its speed of attack and no-nonsense approach to taking a bait. Salmon don’t nibble a bait to pieces – they pounce on it like a cat on a mouse, and they swallow it on the run. There’s no question that a salmon has hit your bait – the flag will leap skyward and the trap will shudder as the fish speeds away, taking 50 or 60 feet of line with it in just a few seconds. I have heard underwater spools sizzling as a big fish runs, and if you aren’t alert and watching your flags a big salmon can clean every inch of line off the spool!
A big landlock is a handful, too, when trying to bring him back to the hole. Salmon fight to the death, literally; they come in swinging and don’t stop struggling till they are released or they are dead. For this reason, it’s critical that the angler know the legal limits (14 inches on most waters) and that he make every effort to release short fish before they clear the water. Even balmy March temperatures can have an adverse effect on a small salmon, so do what you can to contain, unhook and release short fish unharmed. They’ll be back next year, bigger and better than ever!
Salmon are delicious fish and well worth targeting on their own. In most waters the limit is two fish over 14 inches, but check the current regulations to be sure the water you are fishing is included in the general rule. Also, there are trap limits as well, so be sure to adhere to those.
To up your odds for a successful salmon trip, set all your traps for landlocks – small, lively minnows set just below the ice – and keep checking your baits to be sure they are working hard for you. It may be necessary to add a spinner or small weight to the setup so your fluttering bait doesn’t find itself a safe hideout in the nooks and crannies below the ice. It doesn’t take much of a hole to hide a 3-inch minnow, and if passing salmon can’t see them they can’t eat them, either!
For the best tasting salmon after a trip, it’s best to gut keeper fish as soon as you land them. This allows the flesh to “bleed,” leaving only prime, pink flesh for the frying pan. Do not cut the heads, fins or tails off of any salmon unless the remainder is more than 14 inches long, however, otherwise you risk a sad (and expensive) meeting with the game warden!
March is the perfect time to be on the ice, and salmon are the ideal target for antsy anglers looking forward to an early spring. On a good day the action can be fast and furious, and the reward is one of the best-tasting wild fish this state has to offer. Wild Maine landlocked salmon broiled in lemon and butter is about as good as it gets in the outdoor world, and opportunities abound all around us. Good salmon fishing may be had in Dexter’s Wassookeag Lake, in Sebec Lake in Sebec and in Schoodic Lake in Brownville or Lake View. You can catch them just a few steps offshore, or you can wander out to the middle of the lake for a bit of privacy and solitude.
Take the time to enjoy the last of winter this month. Truth be told, it is beautiful out there, sparkling clear, quiet and peaceful, just the right setting for an enjoyable day on the ice. Soon it will be time to pack up your winter gear and replace it with open-water tackle, but for now let’s make the most of the moment. Pull a 4-pound salmon out of the ice and I guarantee that, at that crystalline moment, you won’t be thinking about spring!
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