Ice Fishing the County
By Jeremiah Wood

Winterís long in Maine. For those lacking a good wintertime activity, it can be brutally long. I think thatís the main reason so many of us ice fish. At the risk of offending baseball fans and summertime anglers, I sometimes question the need for a pastime in the summer. Thereís just too much to do, and not enough time to do it!

Now wintertime is a different story altogether. When youíve worked hard all summer and winter finally arrives, the first few hours on the couch can be relaxing, but it doesnít take long for cabin fever to set in. You need an activity to break up the monotony, kill some time, and keep your sanity. Ice fishing does it for me. Plus, itís a lot of fun.

The diehard ice angler needs a fishing cabin. A real one. Portable shacks are all the rage now, and they certainly have their place, but Iím talking about an old fashioned wooden shack. Itís dragged onto the lake at first ice and stays there till the end of March. Warm and cozy, with the basic necessities, it becomes a home away from home for several hours a week.

This time each year, clusters of fishing shacks come together to form winter villages on lakes all over Maine. Their specific locations may vary some, but are typically as consistent as the personalities of the folks who inhabit them.

Take St. Froid Lake, for instance. You can count on 3-5 villages on the ice each winter. A couple of shacks will be up at the head of the lake, where itís tough to access but the fishingís good, especially when the smelts are biting. The mouth of Goss Brook is consistent even in the slow years, and up to a dozen shacks will be parked in the small hole on the edge of the current where the waterís just deep enough Ė 30 feet, but not more than 45. Birch River is good for half a dozen in the average years, but Red hasnít been the same since the channel moved decades ago and the smelt hole is tough to find.

Nearby Eagle Lake is just as predictable. The beach offers easy access and 25 or so shacks stretch out in a long line just the right distance from shore to catch smelts. No one seems to know why smelts hang out there, but they do. Nadeau Thoroughfare is good for half a dozen folks who donít mind making the longer trip in exchange for a little less company and sometimes better fishing. The hole is small at Plaisted, and the shacks are nearly on top of each other. Things can get a bit territorial on the ice at times, but folks donít seem to mind as long as the fish are biting.

Smelt fishing was slow on Portage Lake last winter, but thatís not whatís on my mind right now. Iím more concerned about a growing problem Iíve had the past few winters. The fishing cabin my grandfather helped me build 15 years ago and Iíve used ever since is proving to be just too small. Itís hard to fish with company, and my boy should be old enough to tag along some this winter. So itís time for a bigger shack. Iíve got a bunch of scrap 2x2ís in the yard and a floor plan in mind. The rest of it should come together by January, just in time to resume passing the time.

Jeremiah is an avid outdoorsman and biologist with the State of Maine. He can be reached at jrodwood@gmail.com.


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