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I’ve spent considerable ink this winter extolling the virtues of spending time ice-fishing, especially in the latter days of the dwindling season (which ends Thursday). I get calls from people covering the range of comments from “You’re crazy!” (a common thread there) to “What idiot goes ice-fishing when it’s this cold,” and “I don’t understand what’s so great about ice-fishing.”
Hmmm...doubters are everywhere, it seems, but luckily, Maine’s winter angling corps is strong, optimistic and not likely to quit no matter how cold it gets, how thick the ice or how slow the flags fly. Take, for example, the day local anglers Darrel Lyford, Joel Irwin and Greg Holmes had on Sebec Lake last March 12.
“I took some friends and family to the camp in Sebec that we've rented for the
last three or four years,” Darrell told us. “My brother in law, Gregg Holmes of Bangor, caught this one.”
After a long and courageous battle, the fish threw the hook just as he was starting up the hole! Joel Irwin, another good buddy, (who just caught a 10-pound togue) quickly hit the ice and went down into the hole up to his elbow! After what seemed to be forever, Joel brought his arm out of the hole and tossed Greg's big fish onto the ice.
“People looking on from shore said it looked like he had thrown a large dog onto the ice!” Darrel said.
Holmes’ lake trout is over 20 pounds easily, though the group didn't have a scale with them to verify the weight of the fish. It measured 38 inches long, and from the looks of the accompanying photo, you can’t deny that that’s one heck of a Maine lake trout!
“ Oh, what about me?” Holmes wrote. “Well it was a great pleasure being part of this! I caught a couple of fish, too.”
If you’ve fished Sebec, Schoodic and the other lakes in our region you know that fish of this size are certainly rare (at least in angler’s catches), but they are out there and someone catches a king-sized togue like this every year. I’ve met some SCUBA fans who mentioned seeing togue “as long as your leg” on the bottom of these lakes, and have seen a few taken by other anglers over the years. They are out there, but you can’t catch them sitting at home!
There are still a few days of good fishing left if you can find safe ice, which can be a touchy issue this late in the winter. But, as added incentive to go, consider that many of the biggest fish caught in New England each year are taken through the ice, many in the month of March. If you’re going to go at all this season, it’s time to make your move!
Catching a 20-pound-class togue is exciting business, but getting such a fish to bite takes some knowledge. In general, togue are bottom-dwellers and none too hasty in their approach. The most common method for taking lake trout is to drop a large bait (live shiner or sucker, piece of cut bait or a shiny lure tipped with bait) straight to the bottom and then raise it up about a foot off the rocks. This can be an interesting exercise because “bottom” on lakes like Sebec and Schoodic are well over 100 feet away – quite a distance when you’re hand lining a live sucker or chunk of cut bait to the rocky depths below!
One thing to remember while fishing for big lake trout is that they move slowly, feed rarely and just lay around on the bottom like big, fat catfish. In other words, don’t expect a lot of fast action throughout the day! The funny thing about togue is that they can show up at any time, they bite like minnows and fight like a large, overstuffed chair. You can hook a togue in the first five minutes of your trip, at mid-day or, as often happens, just as you start picking up your gear for the day. These fish will cruise slowly up to a bait, inhale it and just sit there for hours on end, not moving, not “biting,” not even tripping the flag. You won’t even know they’re there until you start pulling up the line. (By the way, if you feel a fish on the line, immediately let go of the line and give the fish more time to swallow the bait. Many anglers feel a fish, give a great yank and literally pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth.) Be cautious and move slowly – you just might be sinking your hook into one of those once-in-a-lifetime 20-pounders!
A togue of that size could be anywhere from 30 to over 50 years old, which is something to ponder while you’re whiling away the long hours between flags. You can’t reasonably expect to catch 20-pound lake trout on every trip, but somewhere down there a giant lake trout is swimming around looking for the bait that will make his (and your day). Find a way to spend some time on the ice during what’s left of this winter fishing season and you’ll understand what Darrell Lyford meant when he said it was a “great pleasure to be a part of all this.”
That’s exactly what I’ve been saying here for about 15 years!
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