John Estes of Hermon jigged up this brown trout on an early season ice fishing outing. Credit: Courtesy of Nolan Raymond

The weather this year really hasn’t been the best for us ice fishermen. Warm days and rain keep pushing back that “good ice” we’re all looking forward to.

Blame it on whatever you want. At any rate, it’s making it difficult to get out on the ice.

That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy ice fishing safely, as long as you take the right precautions. There are a number of ice fishing groups that are worth checking out on Facebook, and some have excellent reports of ice conditions around the state.

Bait shop employees are a wealth of knowledge because they get information directly from all of their customers. A talk with a game warden or fisheries biologist also could definitely be helpful.

My early ice fishing season has been really productive this year. Back in late December, I braved a local small pond for brookies and did very well. With only about two to three inches of ice, I had to use caution.

Ice picks and an inflatable PFD made the trip with me. The pond is only about four feet deep, so even if I did go through, I’m less likely to drown, although I’d sure be cold!

Through the end of December and beginning of January, I hit small trout ponds as much as I could. The repetitiveness did get a little old, but it’s still always fun to go spend time with good friends.

Just last week, I got a report that a larger lake near Moosehead — one sporting salmon, togue and brookies — had locked up and people were fishing. I was all in!

Four of us made the trip, and we had a great day on the ice. We didn’t get much for fish, but still had a good time hanging out.

As the ice fishing season progresses, we are going to have more and more opportunities to fish more places with bigger equipment. Although I haven’t taken my snowmobile on the ice yet this season, I know many who have, and some lakes are safe to do so. However, you really need to be cautious.

Bangor Daily News Outdoors contributor Nolan Raymond displays a nice trout he caught fishing on early-season ice. Credit: Courtesy of Nolan Raymond

There have been a handful of fatalities with people going through the ice this year and numerous snowmobiles and ATVs have been sunk. With due caution, however, you can recreate safely and confidently.

Check ice early and often. You should inspect the ice at any body of water you visit before you head out. Don’t trust others’ words, and don’t assume it’s safe because there are other fishermen. Check as soon as you step on the ice and re-evaluate routinely as you walk out to the spot where you plan to fish.

Avoid inlets and outlets. Although inlets often can have fast fishing, due to the oxygenated water, they tend to cause thinner ice that can be quite inconsistent. Avoid these areas until later in the season.

Take safety equipment. It’s a good idea to always have a set of those ice picks that hang around your neck. Having gone through the ice before, I can attest that they can make it a lot easier to get out.

Wear a life jacket if you’re feeling uncertain. Sure, it may look a little odd, but it could save your life, and that’s worth it. They sell throw bags for boaters: it’s simply a bag of rope with a floating end. You hold the end of the rope and throw the bag, and it will spool the rope out and give someone in the water something to grab on to. We keep these in our ice fishing gear at all times.

Always go with a buddy. This one can be difficult, especially if you fish a lot. But you should always go with a friend on the ice. If one of you needs help, the other is right there.

I realize it’s tough to always find a friend who’s available and eager to tag along. However, it’s really important. It’s not the sort of thing that, if you don’t arrive back home for supper, people can just go look for you and save you.

If you go through the ice, it’s a matter of mere minutes that can dictate your outcome. If you can’t find a friend, at least go fish at a populated lake with a lot of other fishermen nearby. They can at least keep an eye on you, should you take an icy swim.

It has been a slow start to the season so far, but things are heating up as the water cools down! Grab some traps, some friends and some music, and go hit the ice!

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Nolan Raymond, Outdoors Contributor

Nolan Raymond, a junior at Hermon High School, enjoys Maine’s hunting, fishing and trapping opportunities. He is involved in Dirigo Search and Rescue as well as Boy Scouts of America. He also plays the...