In the past week I have heard the first peeps of spring from the marshes, listened to the familiar “peent” of returning woodcock, pulled the taps from our maple trees, and turned over the garden.

Most years, those sounds, smells and activities occur weeks after April Fools’ Day, the traditional start to the open-water fishing season. However, this year winter came late, and despite Punxsutawney Phil seeing his shadow, winter left Maine early.

“Last year we had ice fishing three weeks prior to Jan. 1,” said Francis Brautigam, regional fisheries biologist for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “This year, three weeks after Jan. 1, people were still nervous going on the ice due to the mild winter. Winter came late and left early.”

Will the late start and early end to the ice fishing season mean better fishing for eager anglers looking to wet a line?

“The public perception is that with less ice fishing pressure there are fewer fish caught,” says Brautigam, “and that the shorter ice fishing season means better spring fishing.”

There is some truth to that thinking. Many lakes and ponds in southern Maine are stocked in the fall with trout in order to provide a winter fishery. When there are fewer people ice fishing, not many of these fish are caught, and they remain in lakes and ponds eagerly awaiting an angler’s spring offering.


For years, April 1 marked the beginning of the open-water season. That has changed for many lakes and ponds in southern Maine with the advent of year-round fishing. April 1, however, still marks the opening day for rivers and streams in Maine, and it still remains a traditional opening day for anglers.

Many say April Fools’ Day is appropriate for the advent of fishing season — consider last year, when those who withstood the opening day nor’easter certainly looked more than foolish trying to cast a line in a snow squall.

This year, if the weather holds (and that is a big “if”), there should be plenty of open-water opportunities.

Sebago Lake never froze this year, so early season anglers should have plenty of opportunity. Launching at Sebago Lake Park gives anglers access to the mouth of the Songo, an early season favorite due to the fact that smelts stage in the area before spawning. If the smelts are there, the salmon will be as well.

Check out the new open-water fishing law book, because the regulations on Sebago have been updated. Among the changes: no bag limit on togue under 23 inches in length, and no minimum-length limit on togue. There is a one-fish-daily bag limit on togue longer than 33 inches, and all togue from 23 to 33 inches must be released alive immediately.

“We are trying to restructure the size and age class of the togue population in Sebago,” says Brautigam. “We want to see fewer of the smaller, fast-growing young togue that feast on smelt. We’d like to see more of the older togue in the population that have a lower reproductive rate and forage less on smelt. By increasing the availability of smelt, we will increase the abundance of landlocked salmon.”


Lake Auburn, which is closed to ice fishing, should have some great early season salmon fishing.

“We did some sampling this fall (trapping live fish) and the salmon are just butterballs, just gorgeous,” Brautigam said. “We got some nice four- and five-pounders that were just beautiful.”

Fishing for rainbow trout is also catching on in Maine, and Norway Lake and Little Ossipee Pond are two of the better rainbow fisheries in the state. Rainbows feed throughout the water column, feasting on a variety of foods, including small baitfish, plankton, insects, nymphs and even snails.

Rainbows do have smaller mouths, so use small streamers, small minnows and small stickbaits.

The lack of snow this year means that streams and rivers have relatively low flows. If you are looking to go river or stream fishing and you want to stay somewhat local, try the Little Androscoggin River that flows from north of Oxford down into Auburn. There are rainbows and browns below Oxford and brook trout above.

Other waters you might want to try are Collier Brook, which flows into the Royal River, and the Little Ossipee River. Both are good spots for brown trout.

As always, check your law book before heading out, please wear your life jacket, and enjoy the early spring.

Mark Latti is a registered Maine Guide, and the landowner relations/recreational access coordinator for the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

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