In spite of near-daily warnings, snowmobilers continue to venture on thin ice and open water. Most of these accidents end in a safe recovery, but sadly, a few have had tragic outcomes.

Although we are deep into the month of January, ice conditions in the Midcoast and Central Maine are far from normal. Ice thickness — especially on larger bodies of water — is thinner than usual this year. In spite of some recent cold snaps, ice that has been blanketed in snow has been insulated from the cold and has not made sufficient ice on some waters. Monday and Tuesday’s 12- to 18-inch snowstorm will make for great skiing and trail riding for snowmobiles, but won’t make ice.

Continue to use caution; don’t travel alone; and dig test holes in the ice if unsure of the thickness.

Hungry deer

Snow and cold can be an inconvenience for humans as we deal with shoveling snow; and we complain when we have to turn up the heat or throw another log on the fire. For wildlife, winter is much more than an inconvenience. It’s a bottleneck that, depending on its severity, can mean a slow and agonizing death.

As the snow deepens and the temperatures drop, deer, turkeys and other wild critters struggle to survive. Food supplies are scarce and the cold drains their bodies of nutrients and heat. If spring doesn’t come early, many will not survive.

The past two winters have taken a terrible toll on Maine’s deer herd. Northern Maine is faced with a situation — due to a combination of events — that has nearly wiped out its deer population. Between extremely deep snow, lack of food, a reduction in deer-yard cover and predation from coyotes, some experts say it will be decades before the herd shows an increase in numbers. Some biologists say the herd in Northern Maine will never recover.

The economic and social impact of this dire situation is being felt throughout Maine’s northernmost counties.

Along the coast and in parts of Central Maine, it’s a totally different story. Even though deer numbers were down this year, they have the ability to quickly rebound even with one or two mild or “normal” winters.

In the past, most of Maine’s deer biologists have tried to discourage individuals from feeding deer. The reasons for this negative attitude toward feeding were their concern about the spread of disease when there are concentrations of deer and an increase in predation when groups of deer gather at these feeding stations.

The situation was getting so dire in some of Maine’s wildlife regions that, privately, some biologists have said feeding deer might be the answer to bringing back the herd. Artificial feeding and keeping the coyote population in check would have to work hand in hand.

In spite of the controversy over feeding wild animals, please remember one very important fact: If you start with a feeding program you must keep it up all winter. If birds and animals get dependent on your food, and you take off for a winter vacation, some will die.

We are still in the early weeks of winter. Although it’s too early to tell, we can only hope that the severity will be much less than in recent years and spring will come early. Us pampered humans wouldn’t mind that either.

Record brook trout

A Waterboro man has caught a state record brook trout in York County, according to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife regional fisheries biologists.

Patrick Coan of Waterboro landed the brook trout Jan. 8 while fishing at Mousam Lake. The fish weighed 9.02 pounds and was weighed on a certified scale at the Limerick Supermarket. The record was confirmed by regional fisheries biologists based in IF&W’s Gray Regional Office.

Coan’s massive brook trout was a product of one of the state’s fish hatcheries, as evidenced by its fin clips. It is not known when this particular fish was stocked in Mousam Lake.

The previous state record was caught in 1979 by James Foster of Howland on Big Black Pond. It weighed 8 pounds, 8 ounces.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Maine Sportsman newspaper jointly announce new records. The monthly publication has maintained the state record book for more than 30 years.

They may not be catching state records, but anglers who are finding good, safe ice are catching some nice fish. Reports from Central, Midcoast and Down East Maine indicate quality trout are being pulled through holes in the ice. These fish may not come close to the size of Coan’s brook trout, but many fish in the 4- to 5-pound category are being landed.

Some of the fish are native and some are stocked. Check out the state’s Web site for a list of waters that were stocked with brook trout, brown trout, landlocked salmon, rainbow trout and splake. The Web site also has a separate listing of brood fish that have been release in Maine waters. There usually aren’t large numbers of brooders released, but there are some giants waiting to be caught!

Have a safe week in your part of the great outdoors.

Ken Bailey is the Outdoors Editor for VillageSoup. He can be reached by e-mail at kbailey@villagesoup.com or phone at 446-4243.

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