Saturday, Jan. 1 marked the start of Maine’s winter fishing season and this year anglers in most locations throughout the state will not miss a chance to drop a line if there is not enough ice because of recent changes in the state’s inland fishing regulations.

With current warm temperatures, anglers wanting to ice fish should check ice conditions before venturing onto their favorite lake or pond.

Also, to start the season right, winter anglers can check the annual winter fishing season preview on the department’s website, mefishwildlife.com. Written by regional fisheries biologists, the preview highlights fishing opportunities throughout Maine, plus mentions rule changes and promotes area kids-only ice fishing derbies. The preview features stunning ice fishing photos from Maine anglers who have shared their works on Flickr.com.

New fishing regulation changes that took place April 1 have altered the season for the better. Now it’s a winter fishing season, with open water opportunities available throughout most of the state if ice fishing is not an option.

“The biggest change affecting the winter angler is that nearly all waters open to ice fishing will now also be open to open water fishing,” said Joe Dembeck, MDIF&W fisheries management supervisor. “Late ice formation or early ice out will no longer stop the fishing; instead it will have anglers switching from ice fishing traps to their fishing rods.”

Dembeck said all anglers should take the time to review the current lawbook to see how these regulation changes have been implemented on their favorite winter fishing waters. The Ice and Open Water Fishing Rules and Regulations lawbook is available on the department’s website, mefishwildlife.com and is accessible through the online magazine as well.

With temperatures in the upper 30s and lower 40s over the next few days, ice is not ideal in many locations throughout Maine. Tips on how to check the safety of the ice and what to do if you happen to fall through are listed below.

Throughout Maine, the state’s lakes and ponds may appear to be frozen in parts or their entirety, but safe ice conditions cannot be assumed. Any snow covering thin layers of ice acts as insulation and slows the freezing process. Plus, forecasted rains on Sunday and Monday, Jan. 2-3 could make slushy conditions on any ice that has already formed.

The Maine Warden Service offers these tips for ice safety:

• Never guess the thickness of the ice — check it. Check the ice in several different places using an auger or some other means to make a test hole and determine the thickness. Make several, beginning at the shore, and continuing as you go out.

• Check the ice with a partner, so if something does happen, someone is there to help you. If you are doing it alone, wear a lifejacket.

• If ice at the shoreline is cracked or squishy, stay off. Watch for thin, clear or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and dark ice are other signs of weak spots.

• Avoid areas with currents, around bridges and pressure ridges. Wind and currents can break ice.

• Parents should alert children of unsafe ice in their area, and make sure that they stay off the ice. If they insist on using their new skates, suggest an indoor skating rink.

If you break through the ice, remember:

• Don’t panic.

• Don’t try to climb out immediately — you will probably break the ice again. Reach for solid ice.

• Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift your body onto the ice. Once on the ice, roll, do not walk, to safety.

• To help someone who has fallen through the ice, lie down flat and reach with a branch, plank or rope or form a human chain. Don’t stand. After securing the victim, wiggle backwards to the solid ice.

Maine Fish and Wildlife, the department’s online quarterly magazine, is a snapshot of what people love — Maine’s outdoors. Each issue features programs, initiatives and projects being worked on by MDIF&W employees, with video and web links to resources readers may find useful.

To make the online publication appear like a printed one, MDIF&W works with Ohio-based FlipSeek LLC. The company’s software allows users to flip through pages and zoom into text. Text and PDF versions of the magazine also are available on the department’s website.

VillageSoup sports staff can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at sports@villagesoup.com.