Alex Cole, of Bangor, breaks through the ice on Long Lake, drilling holes for his ice fishing traps during the Long Lake Derby, Jan. 29, 2022. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

At the end of last month, biologists from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife were reporting inconsistent to poor ice conditions across most of the state.

That situation has improved during the last two weeks, but forecast warm temperatures and precipitation this week could quickly change the thickness and quality of ice on some bodies of water.

Anglers should keep those dynamics in mind and be cautious before heading out on their next ice fishing excursion. People who live on or near the bodies of water you intend to target can provide important information about ice conditions and having that knowledge can help anglers enjoy a safe and productive outing.

Penobscot Region

From Fisheries Resource Supervisor Kevin Dunham, Jan. 27: Though still far from those of an average year, ice conditions have improved somewhat in the last two weeks throughout the Penobscot Region. Angler use has increased steadily, though prudent, anglers, sporting camp patrons, and lakeside residents continue to concentrate their fishing efforts in coves, along shore and in front of camps. Some lakes in the region have only recently formed an ice layer, particularly away from shore, and extreme caution should be used if venturing too far onto the ice. Stay safe, and as always check ice thickness often!

A few suggested waters to target this February include:

East Musquash Lake in Topsfield: There is a plowed picnic area at the boat launch on the side of Route 6 making convenient access for anglers without a snowmobile. Along with brook trout, landlocked salmon, and lake trout there is also a hook-and-line fishery for rainbow smelt at East Musquash.

Pleasant Pond in Island Falls: We are conducting a creel survey at Pleasant this winter so be on the lookout for a friendly fisheries biologist collecting lengths and weights from fish you catch to help monitor the fitness of this popular coldwater fishery. Pleasant Pond also has a popular hook-and-line fishery for rainbow smelt in addition to some fine salmon and brook trout fishing.

Davis (Wapiti) Pond in T5 R7 WELS: If you’re looking for an out of the way brook trout pond to try this winter look no further than Davis (Wapiti) Pond. Davis Pond has only recently been opened for ice fishing and should provide good action for brook trout, which are stocked annually. This small, 69-acre lake is a bit off the beaten path but provides a secluded wilderness experience close to the village of Shin Pond. Getting to Davis Pond in the winter can be a little tricky, but there are a couple snowmobile trails off the Wapiti Road which lead to access points on the lake. It should be worth the effort, and you may end up having the whole pond to yourself!

Moosehead Region

From Fisheries Resource Supervisor Tim Obrey, Jan. 25: It’s hard to believe that we are struggling with ice conditions in the Moosehead Lake Region as January winds down. Anglers still need to use caution over the deeper areas of our larger lakes.

You might try some of the smaller waters around the region if you’re unsure about the bigger lakes. In the southern part of this region, you could hit Piper Pond in Abbot for some splake, brook trout or salmon action. Center Pond in Sangerville would be a good bet, too. We stock it with brown trout and brook trout in late fall just before freeze-up, so the ice fishing should be pretty good.

Moving north, Hebron Lake in downtown Monson has good access and is stocked with brook trout and a few salmon. There are a few wild lake trout there as well. Most anglers put on at the public beach on the south shore.  Mountain View Pond just north of Greenville is a favorite. It is heavily stocked with brook trout and the pond is fairly shallow, so it freezes early.  Access is right off Route 15 at the public boat launch.

Brassua Lake also has good access off Route 15 at the boat launch on the southwest end. It’s shallow down at that end of the lake, but there are a few trout and perch to be had. A snowmobile would be handy to get up the lake, if ice conditions permit.

Jackman always seems to have good ice on the local lakes. Big Wood Pond is good fishing early in the season and it tends to slow down as the winter wears on. There are splake, salmon and trout in Big Wood, along with perch, chubs and cusk. That means plenty of action for the kids. Little Big Wood might be a good spot to try if you’re over in the Jackman area. It takes a little more effort to get there but there are some nice splake in the pond.

Fish River Lakes Region

From Fisheries Resource Supervisor Frank Frost, Jan. 30: Northern Maine ice fishing conditions have been less than ideal in 2023 with thin ice on many waters.  A few large storms have created slushy conditions making travel difficult. As a result, angling pressure on waters in Aroostook County has been lower than normal so far. Ice conditions currently vary greatly across lakes so anglers should continue checking ice thickness prior to fishing. Some waters to consider for your next trip in February:

Musquacook Lakes, west of Ashland and located along and near the American Realty Road. First, Second and Third Musquacook lakes offer a remote fishing experience within a short distance of plowed roads. Anglers will find lake trout, brook trout and lake whitefish here with very few other anglers. Be aware that the Realty Road is used primarily for managing and moving wood products; drivers should be aware of logging truck traffic and be prepared to yield to trucks at all times.

Madawaska Lake, Madawaska Lake Township: This water opens Feb. 15 and has an abundance of stocked brook trout and salmon. Timed to coincide with school break, this is the perfect chance for the whole family to enjoy ice fishing.

Smelt waters: there are a number of large lakes that offer some great smelt angling and here are a few suggestions. St. Froid Lake, Winterville Plantation; Portage Lake, Portage; Scopan Lake, Masardis and T11R4; Long Lake, St. Agatha.

Fishing tip: When smelt fishing (see suggested waters above) using a portable shack will increase your success. Sitting out in the wind and elements will make it difficult to detect the bite of these small fish. Use ultralight line with a small jig tipped with a piece of cut bait or shrimp.  Target 30-35 feet of water and fish your bait near the bottom.

Fishing reminder: In the course of our winter survey work, I still see poor practices in handling fish. If you intend to release your catch there are a few things to keep in mind to do so efficiently and humanely. The primary goal is to release your catch with as little harm to the fish as possible. Anglers should be prepared to cut their lines after landing a fish, then replacing the hook to continue fishing. Attempting to remove a hook that is deeper than the jawline or tongue can cause severe injuries. Avoid removing the fish from the water under very cold, windy conditions and decide beforehand whether you want to harvest a fish that day. Doing so can mean the difference between released fish living or succumbing to their injuries after being caught.

Grand Lake Region

From Fisheries Resource Supervisor Greg Burr, Jan. 27 — Where to fish: Ice conditions on most of the larger lakes and ponds in the Downeast Region are very poor and when anglers venture out on any of them they should use extreme caution! Anglers on Mopang Lake in T 28 MD have been catching beautiful salmon between 17 and 20 inches. Anglers on West Musquash Lake in Talmadge have been catching lake trout, salmon and brook trout. West Grand Lake opened to fishing on Feb. 1 but extreme caution should be used when fishing the lake this winter. Other larger waters to try are Pleasant River Lake in Beddington where anglers will have great luck catching brook trout and splake. Bog Lake in Northfield will have good fishing for salmon and brook trout with some brookies reaching over 18 inches.

Anglers that are very wary of the reduced ice thicknesses on the larger lakes may want to stick to the smaller brook trout waters this winter where ice is currently averaging between 10 inches to a foot. Places that we recommend are: Rainbow Pond in T 10 SD, Upper Morison Pond in Great Pond Plantation, Lovejoy Pond in T 35 MD, Peep Lake in T 30 MD, Vining Lake in Cooper, Williams Pond in T 28 MD, Upper Spectacle Pond in T 19 ED, and Keenes Lake in Calais.

For anglers wanting to fish for splake we recommend the following small ponds: Hearts Pond in Orland, Fitts Pond in Clifton, Second & Third Lake Old Stream Ponds in T 37 MD, and Hosea Pug Lake in T 26 ED.

For anglers looking for brown trout we recommend the following small waters: Hancock Pond in Bucksport, Great Pond in Great Pond Plantation, and Round Pond in Charlotte.

Fishing tips: Try fishing for salmon and trout with worms, dace and mummichogs. You will be surprised with the results!

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...