Despite the wind gusts, Hunter Wardwell of Bangor and Adam Pelletier of Brewer spent Feb. 28, 2020, ice fishing on Fields Pond in Orrington. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Ice anglers are excited about getting out on Maine’s frozen lakes and ponds, but make sure you check conditions before venturing out this month.

The January fishing reports from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife list several small bodies of water that typically freeze first, but it is up to anglers to test for ice safety before heading onto the ice as warm temperatures have not been conducive to good ice formation.

DIF&W recommends that ice anglers always tell someone where they are going and when they plan to return as part of an outing.

Also, be aware that many new regulation changes for specific waters have taken effect for 2023. You can check out the new regulations here.

Fish River Lakes Region

From Fisheries Resource Supervisor Frank Frost:

Smaller lakes and ponds have up to 7 inches of ice currently but ice thickness varies considerably due to warm weather and high river flows. We are expecting safe ice to exist only on smaller, shallower waters and coves of larger lakes by Jan. 1. With this in mind, here are a few waters that should have safe ice as of Jan. 1.

Portage Lake, Portage: a large, shallow lake with brook trout, salmon, smelt and several species of non-sport fish. Drews Lake, Linneus: a large, shallow lake with brown trout, splake and several species of non-sport fish. Cross Lake, T17 R5: a large, shallow lake with brook trout, salmon, smelt and several species of non-sport fish.

In addition, I want to highlight those waters that will be newly open to ice fishing in 2023. Those waters are: Durepo Lake (Limestone), Trafton Lake (Limestone) and Monson Pond (Fort Fairfield). These three waters opened Jan. 1 to ice fishing.

Penobscot Region

From Fisheries Resource Supervisor Kevin Dunham:

For many winter anglers Jan. 1 is the long-awaited “official” opening of a new ice fishing season. For some, the start of a new year brings anticipation of fun-filled days on the ice with friends and family enjoying the great Maine outdoors. Others may look forward to spending some solitary days on the ice, relishing the opportunity to slow down and recharge after a long, hectic year. However you choose to kick off 2023, may the year ahead bring you happiness, good health, ice-free holes and tight lines.

A few possible waters to fish in January include Hay Lake (T6 R8 WELS), which typically has adequate ice come January. Hay Lake is stocked with brook trout and landlocked salmon each fall to enhance anglers’ opportunity to catch one of these coldwater salmonids. Another water, which we believe to be underutilized during the ice fishing season, is Lunksoos Lake in T4 R7 WELS. This waterbody is not the easiest to access during the winter, but those that make the trip are often rewarded with brook trout in the 12- to 14-inch range and no crowds.

A third possible water to fish this winter is actually a new opportunity for most in 2023. Little Round Pond in Lincoln has had a special regulation in the past which designated the pond as a “special opportunity water” from Dec. 1 to April 30 for use by persons under 16 years of age or those holding an eligible complimentary fishing license. Information we’ve gathered from winter creel surveys indicated Little Round Pond was not being utilized during the December through April timeframe. As a result, we implemented a regulation change that takes effect beginning Jan. 1 which will open Little Round Pond as a year-round angling opportunity for all anglers. A great “new” fishing opportunity close to the town of Lincoln.

Fishing tip: It can be worth the effort to set an ice fishing trap in close to shore rigged with an earthworm, especially early in the season, when targeting brook trout. Trout are often cruising the shoreline looking for a quick meal and ice anglers can use that to their advantage.

Moosehead Region

From Fisheries Resource Supervisor Tim Obrey:

There’s been very little fishing ice fishing activity so far in the Moosehead Lake Region. We’ll need some cold, calm nights for the ice to set up. So, stay on the small ponds for now. Waters like Mountain View (Fitzgerald) Pond, Sawyer Pond, Prong Pond, Branns Mill Pond and Snow’s Pond will be the first to have sufficient ice. They are all stocked late in the fall, so the fish are there.

Big Wood Pond in Jackman is a larger body of water, but it seems to freeze earlier than most mid-sized lakes. Big Wood offers some fast early season action for splake, brook trout and the occasional salmon. It’s located in downtown Jackman, so access is easy. It’s going to be a while yet for Moosehead and other large lakes.

Grand Lake Region

From Fisheries Resource Technician Jake Scoville:

Jan. 1 is always an exciting day for Maine ice anglers, as it marks the unofficial start to ice fishing season. January is typically the month where ice starts setting up on larger water bodies in the Down East region and opportunity is abundant and diverse.

If you are looking for something a little different than your go-to lakes and ponds this January, the Down East region has several new ice fishing opportunities that may be just what you are looking for. Upper Spectacle Pond in Township 19, Upper Morrison Pond in Great Pond, and Williams Pond in Township 28 are all new brook trout programs that are small, remote waters. These new trout waters should provide January anglers with fish between 10 and 16 inches. All these remote waters require a little bit of extra effort to get to but could be very rewarding.

If you are looking forward to the chance of catching salmon and lake trout this January, I would suggest a few of the classic Down East waters. West Musquash Lake in Talmadge (salmon, lake trout), Cathance Lake in Cooper (salmon), Green Lake in Ellsworth (salmon, lake trout), Eagle Lake in Bar Harbor (salmon, lake trout) are some of the most reliable salmon and/or lake trout fisheries we have in the region. Waters like Pleasant River Lake in Beddington, Mopang Lake in Devereaux Township, Bog Lake in Northfield, Nash’s Lake in Calais, Toddy Pond in Orland, and Spring River Lake in Township 10-SD are all popular waters that anglers regularly catch warm-water species like perch and pickerel, but also catch coldwater species like brook trout and splake. Pleasant River Lake and Toddy Pond are also great places to bring kids because you never know what might come up through the hole.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...