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One of the more common maladies affecting folks at this time of year is what the counseling clique calls “post-holiday depression.” After many weeks of unbridled hustle and bustle compounded by the stress of having to give to too many people who’ve already got more than they need, this post-holiday period can be a major let-down. It’s done, it’s over and what else is there for us to do but plop down in a chair and absorb the gloom of the long, cold winter that lies ahead...
Ha! Not so the Maine outdoorsman. Christmas and New Year’s are great, but now that there are behind us we can look forward to more important ice-fishing. While all that shopping, wrapping and good will-giving was going on our lakes and ponds were busy forming a thick mantle if ice. Always check with the local sheriff’s department or game warden before you venture onto a frozen waterway, but once safe ice is declared, outdoorsmen in our neck of the woods waste no time cutting holes and dropping lines to their favorite cold-weather quarry. Last month, the target was pickerel, perch and other warmwater species, but with the new year the species of choice changes to trout and salmon on most waters.
If you want lots of action with minimal effort, stick with pickerel fishing. On a good day, you can cut a couple of holes, rig up a trap or two and not do much else but run back and forth between them as the flags fly as your shiners get stolen by hungry cruising fish. Set up in the right place at Branns Mill Pond, Harlow Pond or Pushaw Pond (where, word has it, someone has illegally dumped northern pike, a close relative to the pickerel), and you can while away the better part of a day tending traps, freshening baits and battling big, hungry pickerel.
By the way, pickerel are great fried or in chowders. Just scale the fish, fillet them, lay the fillets skin-side down and make a series of cuts in the flesh right down to the skin and about 1/4-inch apart. When you cook the fish, all those pesky, Y-shaped bones melt in the oil, leaving a flaky, tender, boneless fillet behind. Now that you know that secret to cooking boneless pickerel, you have one less excuse for staying indoors on your winter day off!
Of course, once the bigger, deeper lakes start to freeze, most folks will choose to target trout and salmon. Most newcomers think you need a snowmobile, a fancy shack and a power auger to get into the sport of winter trout fishing, but everyone has forgotten that these are relatively new developments as far as ice-fishing goes. There was a time when ice-fishing meant cutting a hole, tying a length of line to a fir bough and dropping the other end of the like, with a hook and minnow attached, into the water. A lot of fish have been caught that way, and the requirements for a good day (from the fish’s point of view) haven’t changed much. Believe it or not, it is still legal to walk onto the ice, cut a hole with a chisel or axe (just be careful!) and you can still sit on your bait bucket while you jig a baited hook by hand. You can catch brook trout, salmon, togue and cusk this way (it was done for hundreds of years before the gas engine was invented!), and I’d bet that there are still people out there doing it the “old fashioned way.”
Just remember that you can enjoy ice-fishing without all the peripheral “modern” equipment you see today’s veteran anglers using. I’ve had spectacularly good days on the ice with almost no gear and I’ve had terrible days when I was able to drove onto the ice by snowmobile, used a power auger to cut my holes, walked into a plush, heated “shack,” fired up a pot of coffee and started fishing.
If you have never been ice-fishing and want to try it, just dress warmly, bring something to eat and drink, have a way to cut and skim your holes, bring hooks, line and some minnows for bait, and see what happens. You can spend a month’s pay on other gear, and you probably will after you catch that first big salmon or togue, but it’s not necessary to have a truckload of gear to catch fish, any more than you need a Chevy Suburban to get milk from the corner store.
It is important to know and understand the ice-fishing regulations for the water you plan to fish. The laws vary from county to county and even lake to lake, so take the time to review the rules (which are issued free with each fishing license) and take note of the bag limits, minimum lengths and other stipulations that apply to your lake and target species. The best source of information is the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s website,
Some folks allow the winter doldrums to keep them grumping by the TV all winter and that’s too bad. There is a lot to do in Maine even though there is snow on the ground and ice all around, and you can do most of it for the cost of a fishing license ($20).
Instructions for participating in this important program can be found at There’s no fee or registration. Those who would like to participate but who aren’t online can try their local library, Internet café or other public online site. For more information about the Great Backyard Bird Count, contact the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at (800) 843-2473; write them at 159 Sapsucker Woods Road, Ithaca, NY 14850; or e-mail them at To get in touch with Audubon, call (215) 355-9588, Ext. 16; write the Audubon Science office at 545 Almshouse Road, Ivyland, PA 18974; or e-mail them at
Take a few minutes to log onto the site and see all the cool stuff people are doing to keep an eye on birds, and manage them, while the snow piles up in your dooryard this winter. The Cornell home page (at has a lot of interesting information about birds and bird watching, including a “nest cam” site where you can watch birds in their nests via (almost) real time photos.
Remember, all of this starts with a gift of a simple feeder and 5 pounds of bird seed (go with sunflower seeds!) left under the tree this Christmas. Just remember to sign up to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count – the birds will love you for it!
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