March Madness: Late Season Ice Fishing in Maine
Author: KEVIN TRACEWSKI

Reprinted from Outdoor Life Magazine

Maine Ice FishingContrary to popular belief, ice fishing is not a sport restricted exclusively to Inuits capable of enduring prolonged periods of exposure to sub-zero temperatures.  In fact, Maine’s weather in March can be so warm and sunny that, in addition to experiencing some of the best ice fishing action of the season, you could also get a jump on your summer tan.

The ice fishing season on most Maine lakes opens January 1, so by the time this nice March weather arrives, however, many of the traditional hotspots have already been fished fairly hard.  So, in order to achieve consistent late-season success, you must use the events of the season to your advantage.

Landlocked Salmon

For landlocked salmon, this means concentrating your efforts around inlet brooks where smelt (the principal food source for salmon) will be starting to congregate for spawning runs. All lakes with healthy salmon populations also have a thriving population of smelt.  So if your target the mouths of the spawning streams late in the ice fishing season, you will be sure to find salmon.  Anglers should fish their bait a few feet under the ice in fairly shallow (5 to 15 feet) water.

Brook Trout

Brook trout also congregate off the mouths of inlet brooks in March. For them, the attraction is food being washed down into the lake with the melting snow. Best success usually comes by fishing worms, crayfish or small minnows within 50 yards of the stream inlet in very shallow water (less than three feet deep).  Most of the large lakes in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, like Webster, Chamberlain, Eagle, Telos and Churchill, provide great opportunities to catch late-season brook trout.

Cusk

March TogueAlthough less glamorous than their salmonid cousins, my favorite late-season fish is the cusk.  A freshwater relative of the cod, these fish grow large (up to 10 pounds) and are great to eat. And because they receive almost no angling pressure the rest of the year, I don’t feel too badly about bringing a few home for supper.

For the most part, cusk are nocturnal bottom-feeders that generally don’t bite well during daylight. In March, however, they leave their deep-water retreats and congregate in sandy coves and shoals to spawn. At this time, they can be taken fairly consistently during the day on large, dead minnows fished right on the bottom.  In large part, cusk locate their food by smell, so sometimes it’s helpful to crush your bait with your boot before placing it down the hole, so that you rupture its body cavity and allow the oils and smells to disperse in the water.

Well-known cusk fishing grounds include Sebago, Chesuncook, Pemadumcook and East Grand Lakes. A few lesser-known lakes that also have healthy populations of cusk are Brassua , Spencer, Musquacook and East Musquash.

Togue

Maine Landlocked SalmonThe fish that probably attracts the most attention from die-hard late-season anglers are togue (lake trout). Because of their size (many over five pounds) and fighting ability, they are considered by many to be the ultimate ice fishing prize.  Big-name lakes such as Moosehead, Sebago, Chamberlain and East Grand have well-deserved reputations as togue producers. But lesser-known waters like Sebec, Millinocket, Ross and Spider also produce braggin’ size togue each year.

Togue are best caught by jigging in relatively deep (25 to 40 feet) water. I like to use a silver Leadfish or a Swedish Pimple, but just about any heavy spoon with a piece of cut bait attached to it will do. To attract togue, some anglers like to stir up the bottom by bouncing their jigs off the rocks and gravel before beginning to fish. Others like to move around a lot, fishing only 10 to 15 minutes at a time in a given hole. Personally, I find that anything that increases your confidence and comfort (and thus extends the amount of time you spend jigging) will ultimately boost your chances of success.  And the great weather that March often provides is one important factor.