Eyan Sharitt skims snow and slush Monday from a hole where he, his sister, Emery, 3, and his father, Michael, in background, are ice fishing at China Lake in China. Michael says this is his children’s first time fishing, including watching and assisting their father as he drills through 13 inches of ice before reaching water. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Longtime ice fisherman Jeff Witham of Gray says ice conditions have made for poor fishing this year.

“It’s been a slow season, in my opinion,” he said.

Witham was on China Lake in the town of China on Sunday teaching Mikey Saulnier, 11, and Aidan Darling, 12, of Windham to fish. Witham started the Trap for Kids program seven years ago, and has given away more than 4,000 ice fishing traps — including 50 on Sunday at China’s fishing derby.

But the season this year has been less than ideal and, in some cases, hazardous, especially in the southern part of Maine, according to Witham.

“One of my buddies fell through the ice yesterday,” Witham said. “He says he’s done for the season.”

Mark Latti, spokesman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, said December was quite warm, causing a thaw that led into another thaw in January, creating less-than-desirable conditions.


“It took a while for ice to form, particularly on the bigger lakes in the southern part of the state,” Latti said Sunday.

A bench is deep in snow Sunday next to open or partially frozen water on Snow Pond at Waterfront Park in Oakland. The pond connects to Messalonskee Lake. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

It has also been warmer than usual. Latti said this is the first year he can remember not seeing smelting shacks on the Kennebec River in Randolph. He said IF&W officials urge people to check all ice before heading out onto it.

“Come March, the ice is likely to go out quickly, if it’s a normal March,” Latti said.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said he has not been ice fishing this winter near his home in Lincoln County. Ponds and lakes on the midcoast have not had enough ice, he said, but if one travels 25 miles inland, conditions are better.

“It’s been sketchy at best,” Trahan said of the ice fishing season. “Ice fishing this year is for those who don’t fear to tread. You really have to be careful and test the ice because every pond is different.”

Trahan said it has been about 25 years since he has seen an ice fishing season like much of Maine is experiencing this year.


“I don’t think I’ve ever seen one drag out this long, where it’s been so warm for so long,” he said.

Larry Ridley, owner of Lakeside Bait Shop on Memorial Drive in Winthrop, on Maranacook Lake, said Sunday that many people have been fishing lately on Maranacook, especially Saturday, when the American Legion hosted an annual fishing derby.

He said the lake has been busy the past three weeks, after it fully froze over, and people have been on the ice on ATVs or snowmobiles and have ice shacks out, including himself.

“Yesterday, there were all kinds of people out,” Ridley said Sunday.

The season got off to a late start because warm winter weather caused waterways to freeze over slowly. Ridley said Maranacook Lake did not freeze over until mid-January. This would normally happen around the start of January.

“We didn’t have ice until late,” he said. “It’s been a weird winter.”


Ridley said Maranacook Lake had 4 to 5 inches of black ice and several inches of snow ice on top of that, totaling about a foot.

Black ice is preferred because it is harder and melts more slowly, ice fishermen said.

Verne Keith, owner of Cobbossee Bait in Winthrop, which sells bait to fishermen and sells wholesale to other bait shops, said an inch of black ice is as strong as 3 inches of snow ice and, unfortunately for fishermen, the weaker, less-durable snow ice is prevalent this year throughout central Maine.

He said most bodies of water in the area have plenty of ice for now, but much of it is snow ice, not the harder black ice. He said in most bodies of water in the area, there is only about 4 inches of black ice.

Ice fisherman John Reynolds III of Oakland pulls his daughter, Poppy Louise, 1, on a sled Sunday after they, along with Poppy Louise’s mother, Kaitlyn, right, and Aunt Mindy of Waterville, finish a day of ice fishing at Lake George in Canaan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

He said that could mean an early end to the season — unless the region is hit with colder temperatures — because the snow ice will likely melt quickly.

“I’m a glass half full kind of guy, so I’m not going to say it’s going to be over tomorrow,” Keith said. “If we don’t get any more really cold weather, when the angle of the sun changes if we have 50-degree day after 50-degree day, we’re going to lose ice quickly.


“We have 12 to 14 inches of ice, but 7 to 8 of that could go away with a couple of 60-degree days.”

The late arrival of cold temperatures meant those eager to get out and fish early in the season had to walk onto the ice instead of using snowmobiles or other equipment to haul their gear.

“Everyone walked on the ice three weeks longer than they usually do,” Keith said. “My wholesale business was off quite a bit.”

To collect bait fish to sell, Keith took long walks out onto the ice — 30,000 steps a day — and said he lost 20 pounds due to the additional exercise.

Ice fishermen gather Sunday at Lake George in Canaan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Things were much worse for commercial smelt shack rental operators on sea-run rivers in central Maine, where none of them appears to be operating these days. Much of the Kennebec River is open water. A flock of geese could be heard honking on the river Sunday morning in Richmond.

Other than a couple of weeks of February, when Jim Worthing Smelt Camps opened briefly on the Kennebec River in Randolph, James Eddy Smelt Camps on the Eastern River in Dresden opened for just five days in early February, and Back 40 Smelt Camps, also on the Eastern River in Dresden, put out two shacks for three days, before having to pull them due to a lack of safe ice, smelt shack operators were not able to open in central Maine this winter because of nonexistent or inadequate river ice.


Baker’s Smelt Camps on the Kennebec in Pittston announced Feb. 4 it would not be opening for the 2022-23 smelt season.

Leighton’s Smelt Camps on the Abagadasset River in Bowdoinham announced Jan. 24 on its Facebook page it would not open for the season because temperatures were too warm and there was not enough ice, joining other area camps that were unable to open.

“This is a tough one to write. Unfortunately we will NOT be opening for the season,” a Feb. 7 post on Jim’s Camps Facebook page read of its Cathance River smelt operation in Bowdoinham. “This was a tough decision for us but safety is our #1 concern. The Cathance is one of the smaller tributaries but it’s still tidal water and not as safe as a pond or lake. We hope to see you all next year.”

Scott White, 57, of Skowhegan said he has not fished much this season, although he is an avid fisherman and has been fishing for most of his life.

“Ice conditions held me back,” said White, who was with friend, Brock Pooler, and his family Sunday, fishing in a derby on Lake George in Canaan.

Ice fisherman Wesley Wishart of Virginia drives a snowmobile Sunday that is pulling a sled filled with gear as his mother, Stacey, follows along the shore of Snow Pond, next to the gazebo at Waterfront Park in Oakland. Open water is visible at far left. The pond connects to Messalonskee Lake. The family was able to fish through ice ranging from 6 to 14 inches thick, according to Stacey Wishart. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Pooler described the ice as “pretty mealy” in places, but said it was 14 to 18 inches thick on the lake. He also issued a caution about the ice this season, saying, “Once it goes, it’s gonna go quick.”


Also at Lake George on Sunday, Ethan and Emilee Robertson of Canaan said their three boys love to fish, but the season has not been as good as usual due to ice conditions. Most years, many people drive their trucks and cars onto the ice to fish, but not this year, according to Ethan Robertson.

“I’m surprised some people have cars out there today,” he said.

Open water was visible Sunday near the boat landing on Messalonskee Lake in Oakland, where most winters see people ice fishing around this time.

On China Lake, Lee Pettengill, 47, of China said Sunday was only the second time this season he and his son, Bryce, 13, had been ice fishing.

“The ice hasn’t been safe for most of Maine for the better part of the season,” Pettengill said.

At the head of China Lake, near the causeway, the ice was about 10 inches thick, with 4 inches of black ice and 6 inches of white ice, according to Mike Choate, 48, of Albion, who was fishing with the Pettengills.

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