Marc Bessette didn’t get out on the ice to fish this year, but knew the season wasn’t the best. People weren’t clamoring to buy his handmade ice fishing traps.

Bessette, of Readfield, builds Maine Allagash Tip-Up Ice Traps and said he usually gets orders for Christmas. But not this year.

“I got orders for parts and stuff in January, which is a sign people were going out, but I didn’t get any orders for more traps,” Bessette said Thursday. “It was a slow year.”

State fisheries biologist Francis Brautigam said warm weather and thin ice kept a lot of people from fishing this year. He said bait dealers said the ice fishing season was one of the worst in years.

Brautigam said by late January there’s usually 12 inches or more of ice in most places. This year, ice was only 7 or 8 inches.

Thin ice caused the Crystal Lake Ice Fishing Derby in Gray scheduled for Jan. 28 to be postpone until Feb. 25.

The annual derby was expected to attract more than 6,000 anglers. Benefits from the derby support Maine military families, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Hooked On Fishing program and local community schools.

“The ice fishing season this year was unlike the year before,” Bessette said. “The ice set very early the year before. Some waters people were fishing two weeks or more prior to January 1. This year we had very few waters, in the minds of many anglers, not really safe until several weeks into January. So it was quite a difference.”

He said angler traffic was slow to move onto the ice until it got thicker and even then people didn’t feel safe venturing out on all terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.

They were much more cautious and instead walked, which was easy because of the lack of snow, he said.

“Given that we didn’t really have heavy fishing pressure this year, the expectation is that it may be a little bit better fishing prospect for freshwater anglers in the spring,” he said. “We saw a slow use in January ramping up in February, but this month it’s very low. If you a drive around the ponds you only see a few shacks. Most have been removed.”

He said the diehard anglers who live for ice fishing managed to get their time in, though. A record-breaking 3.46-pound white perch was caught on Mosher Pond in Fayette.

“Also, on the Hobbs Pond in Norway a father and son team caught a 13-pound brown trout, which certainly is a trophy fish,” he said.

Ron Poulin of Waterville, who had an ice shack on Damariscotta Lake in Jefferson, said even though he didn’t have many opportunities to fish this winter, he still had a good season.

“We caught more smelts than we knew what to do with,” Poulin said.

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

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