For some Maine anglers, April 1 is a sacred day.
Historically, it marks the first day of open water fishing statewide, although that changed, to some extent, during the 1990s.
For others, the day is more symbolic, as winter still often maintains its grip on some lakes and ponds in northern Maine and ice covers waters for several more weeks.
Opening day is often characterized by challenging conditions and slow fishing. Yet at its core, April 1 is a harbinger of many exhilarating days to come.
And despite the hardships, it hasn’t stopped some anglers from taking great pains to wet a line.
“I always think of the fisherman who, in the early 2000’s, drove his van from the West Coast to Grand Lake Stream, slept in it in the parking lot overnight, and waded into the stream at first light,” said Randy Spencer, a Registered Maine Guide and author who during the fishing season is based at Grand Lake Stream.
Spencer, who spends hundreds of hours a year in a boat with his clients, or with fly rod in hand, said the start of the season is always worth noting.
“The meaning of opening day on Grand Lake Stream is mostly symbolic, but that doesn’t make it any less real,” Spencer said. “Even though the fishing season won’t get fully under way for another several weeks some years, it still marks the start of it all, and that has the effect of shifting people’s thinking from winter to spring.”
Many years ago, even outdoors aficionados in southern Maine, where the ice usually goes out earlier, had to wait for April Fools Day to wet a line from a boat or shoreline.
However, a revamping of Maine open water fishing regulations by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife altered that dynamic with a North/South system.
There already is open water at numerous locations in southern and central Maine. For those waters located in the state’s South zone — which includes Penobscot (south of Routes 11 and 157), Hancock, Washington, Kennebec, Waldo, Knox, York, Cumberland, Androscoggin, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Oxford (south of the Androscoggin River) — all are open to fishing year-round, whether through the ice or on open water.
Lakes and ponds in the state’s remaining six counties — Penobscot (north of Routes 11 and 157), Aroostook, Piscataquis, Somerset, Franklin and Oxford (north of the Androscoggin River) — are legal for open water fishing starting on April 1.
Anglers and boaters can check on the status for ice out on lakes and ponds on the DIF&W website. The data is updated on weekdays.
Mike Pratico of Sinclair, who spent most of his life in Greater Portland, said the official start of the season is cause to embrace the fishing opportunities to come.
“While I don’t always get out on opening day, it is rare that I don’t get out soon thereafter. I tend to daydream about fishing all winter long and generally can’t wait to get out,” Pratico said.
“It’s always great to get out but, for me, early season days rarely involve catching a lot of fish.”
In March 2020, Gov. Janet Mills opened fishing season early to help Mainers cope with the pandemic. Pratico, along with sons Sam and Simon, braved the deep snow and headed to Mailbox Pool on the Magallaway River in Wilson’s Mills. Simon and Sam were eager to try out the new fly rods they had received for Christmas.
“I remember hiking in with our fishing gear on our backs and snowshoes on our feet thinking how cool it was to have two boys as excited as I was about a snowshoe/fishing outing,” Pratico said.
They enjoyed a gorgeous sunny day, during which they were forced to repeatedly clear ice from their rod guides.
“We caught no fish, yet that entire outing epitomized everything I love about fishing: being outside in beautiful places, often enjoying time with the most important people in one’s life. Truly unforgettable,” Pratico said.
For some anglers, April 1 simply isn’t attractive enough, for a variety of reasons, to lure them onto the water.
“Opening day is too early for black flies and I have my best luck fishing when there are black flies,” joked Ron Smith of Freeport, who is retired after a career working for Orvis, Patagonia and L.L. Bean.
“To me, fishing and baseball are best played in warm weather. However I have been going through all the gear and getting it organized for later in the spring,” Smith said.
Spencer said fishing success on opening day at Grand Lake Stream varies depending on a lot of factors. He has witnessed 60 anglers on the stream, or as few as six.
Accomplished anglers have reported landing as many as 30 landlocked salmon, although Spencer says even someone who missed two or three fish comes away equally satisfied.
“It is, nevertheless, a very strong tradition, baked into the culture of Grand Lake Stream for generations,” Spencer said.