AUGUSTA — From ice fishing to hunting to bird watching to a plethora of outdoor activities, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has released information on the where, how, and so much more.

Ice fishing

Maine’s lakes and ponds are starting to freeze, and for Mainers and visitors, that means ice fishing season. But before heading for a day of fishing, one must remember ice conditions always are changing.

There are many factors to consider when determining whether the ice conditions are safe, and they can vary from day-to-day and from one water body to the next. Know the spot you typically fish in January may not yet be safe.

Smaller water bodies, such as ponds, typically freeze first, and can be a good option for early-season fishing. Always check for yourself.

Ice fishing gear. Photo courtesy of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

The temperatures are dropping and some of Maine’s smaller ponds in northern Maine are frozen. Before one realizes it, anglers across the state will enjoy one of Maine’s most cherished winter activities.

Maine’s fisheries biologists put together a list of waters across the state they recommend trying, depending on ice conditions. One also can find a few spots to try starting Jan. 1 when additional waters opened to ice fishing. Click here to view the fishing report.

Remember, the early part of the ice fishing season is the best time to target Maine’s stocked waters for brook trout, landlocked Atlantic salmon, brown trout, splake and rainbow trout. Click here to view the stocking report. If one is new to ice fishing, check the beginner’s guide to learn about essential gear, where to go, and what to do.

What is needed to start?

For many outdoor enthusiasts, ice fishing is one of the most revered times of the year. Not only can one fish for many species, but one can create memories with friends and family, spend time outside, enjoy beautiful winter scenery, and provide one with delicious table fare.

Like most activities, there are a ton of items one could use, but getting set up with the essentials is all one needs to start. Many anglers start with second-hand gear and borrow from others until they are ready to purchase the rest.

Essential ice fishing gear:

Anyone over age 16 must have a fishing license. Or, try ice fishing during free fishing weekend on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 19-20.

On the ice. Photo courtesy of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Proper clothing to keep warm: Insulated boots, waterproof gloves, thermal layers, warm beanie, snow pants, jacket, and wool socks are staples. Warm clothing does not need to be expensive or even ice fishing specific.

A chisel or auger to cut ice fishing holes: An ice chisel is most effective early in the season but also can be used as a safety tool to check ice thickness throughout the season. An ice auger is the most commonly used tool to drill holes through ice. There are many options whether a hand-, electric-, gas-, or propane-powered auger. Which one you choose typically depends on budget, but they all work. A hand auger is often the cheapest and best way to get started, paired with a sharp blade a hand auger gets the job done easier than you might expect.

Traps and tackle: The real purpose of ice fishing is obvious; to catch fish. The next essential piece of gear one will need is a way to catch those fish. Setting “traps” or “tip-ups” paired with live bait is probably the most common way to fish through the ice in Maine. A trap or tip-up is simply a device that sits on top of the ice, holds the fishing line, and has an indicator flag that “trips” when a fish tugs on the line. There is not a trap that will not work, but like anything, more expensive traps tend to be better made and last longer. Some popular brands are Polar, Frabill and Maine-made brands such as Heritage and Jack Traps. In most Maine waters, one can have five lines set at one time, so most anglers tend to own five traps total. For those who enjoy a more active style of fishing, a jig rod is a great option. And remember you will need tackle to attach to the end of your line (swivel, monofilament line, small nonlead weight, and a hook).

Besides the absolute essential gear needed to cut the ice and a rig to fish with, there are a few other pieces of gear that one will need: a sled, bait bucket and net, ice scoop or “skimmer,” bag to carry gear, ice cleats, fishing pliers, depth sounder, ice safety picks, and chisel.

First-person view of walking in snowshoes on a snowy field. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Ice safety

The early January fishing report lists small bodies of water that typically freeze first, but it is up to the angler to test for ice safety. Remember to always use extreme caution when venturing onto Maine’s waterways. Accessing lakes and ponds should be avoided unless one can be certain of ice conditions by checking ice thickness.

Before stepping out, use a chisel or auger to test ice thickness in several places. Remember that ice seldom freezes uniformly and conditions are always changing and can vary from one location to the next. Ice that forms over flowing water and currents, especially near streams, bridges and culverts, can be particularly dangerous.

Before one heads for a day of ice fishing, always tell someone where you are going and when you will return.

The winter season is the time to check gear. Make sure line is not tangled, there are no knots in the leader, each line has a hook, auger blades are sharp and ready to go, and one has the essentials.

If one fishes with soft plastic lures, check to make sure they are in good condition. If they are stretched, brittle, or have a cut, it is time to recycle them.

Fishing tips

Target brook trout: January is a great time to target Maine’s beautiful brook trout. Whether stocked or wild, brook trout are cruising the shores looking for an easy meal. Try fishing in less than five feet of water with a small hook, small bait such as a minnow or trout worm, and over a gravel bottom or near a rocky structure. MDIFW stocked thousands of brook trout across Maine for ice fishing season, so check the stocking report for a water near you.

Try jigging: Fisheries biologists will tell one to try jigging — it significantly increases your chances of catching fish. If after a few minutes you do not get any bites, try a new hole. Spoons, Swedish pimples, and cast masters always are a good go-to to jig off the bottom for lake trout or brook trout.

Warmwater species are great for beginners: When introducing someone to ice fishing, no matter their age, target warm-water species such as bass, pickerel and perch. For beginners, an action-filled day is much more exciting than waiting on a picky trout — save that for another time. Top the day with hot chocolate and a tasty meal on the ice, bring a football to pass between flags or a pair of ice skates, and make sure they dress appropriately with spare socks and gloves.

To keep or release?

Some anglers are eager to catch fish for a fresh, delicious meal later that night. Others choose to release their catch. It is ultimately up to angler preference.

Fishing regulations are tailored to each water’s needs and most waters are designed to allow for harvest while maintaining a healthy fishery. Anglers can trust that as long as they follow length and bag limits, the fish population will be protected.

In some waters, management goals and objectives rely on acceptable levels of fish harvest for a healthy ecosystem: when there are too many fish and not enough food/forage, an increase in harvest can create healthier, bigger fish over time.

When one looks up the special fishing laws on these waters, they will see they allow for increased harvest of those overly-abundant fish species.

For those who wish to release their catch, or if their catch is not legal to harvest, they should follow these steps to help improve the chances that fish will live:

• Release as fast as possible.

• Keep the fish in the water as much as possible (in the winter fish may be subject to a quick freeze in a matter of seconds).

• Wet your hands before handling the fish.

• Be gentle — do not let the fish hit the ice.

• Safely remove the hook with small pliers or a similar tool. If the hook is deeply embedded or in a sensitive area such as the gills or stomach, cut the leader close to the snout.

Additionally, enjoy a ice fishing trip, but remember:

• Leave no trace: Carry out all that you carry in.

• Park in public or designated areas: Do not block paths or other roads.

• Respect private property: Utilize public access sites or areas where you have permission to park or access.

• Be prepared: Check the weather, bring what you need for the day, and let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.

• Take care of your catch: If you are practicing catch and release, do so quickly and responsibly. If you harvest your catch, bring it home.

Nominations for Legendary Registered Maine Guide

The MDIFW seeks nominations for the Wilmot (Wiggie) Robinson Legendary Maine Guide Award.

Registered Maine Guides are experienced and passionate outdoors men and women and each year the DIFW recognizes a member of the guiding community with the Wilmot (Wiggie) Robinson Legendary Guide Award.

Criteria for this prestigious award is as follows:

Must meet 20-year anniversary as a Registered Maine Guide. Active guide for 10 years.

Passes a criminal background check. Law abiding citizen with no arrests for committing a crime related to: Human injury, gun laws or major hunting or fishing violations for 20 years.

Volunteer community service. Providing education about safety and survival in the Maine woods. Introducing and educating youth about the importance of the ecosystem found in the State of Maine.

Active on boards or committees that enhances and promotes the importance of Maine’s outdoor resources, ie: youth programs, scout leader, conservation education, safety instructor, search and rescue volunteer, active in Fish and

Game club(s), guide license examiner, etc.

This award will be presented to the recipient at the annual Maine Professional Guides Association banquet in the spring of 2022.

Complete and submit a nomination by Jan. 10, 2022. One can download the nomination packet or submit a nomination online.

Learn winter hobby at adult workshops

MDIFW officials believe the best way to enjoy Maine’s cold, snowy winter months is to get outside and enjoy it. The options are endless, snowshoe, ice fish, cross-country ski, look for wildlife tracks in fresh snow, watch some of Maine’s 191 wintering bird species, hunt, tie flies, camp, and more.

Join one of the workshops to try something new or expand on skills. All experience levels are welcome, especially beginners.

Becoming an Outdoors Woman, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. Shake off cabin fever and get outdoors to enjoy the amazing things winter in Maine can offer. This one-day program offers two extended blocks to allow for more hands-on skill-building and enjoyment while appreciating a multitude of health benefits. Registration fee: $95. Session choices include ice fishing, fly-tying, snowshoeing/wildlife tracking, shotgun shooting skills, intro to snowmobiling, campfire cooking, handgun shooting, and more. More information can be found at Becoming an Outdoors Woman.

Winter SustainME Workshop, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. This workshop is open to adults. SustainME is designed in partnership with MDIFW and the University of Maine 4-H Camp and Learning Center at Bryant Pond. Outdoor skills-focused workshops follow three distinct paths: Hunting/ Fishing, Wild Edibles/Foraging, and Backyard Farming, with the goals of helping people gain the knowledge, self-confidence, and practical skills to be more self-reliant with an emphasis on sustainable food sources and preparation. Registration fee: $95. Session choices include introduction to ice fishing, shotgun shooting, maple sugaring, wild game cooking, rifle shooting, introduction to trapping, snowshoeing and wildlife tracking, winter survival, and more. More information can be found at SustaineME.

Share bird sightings

The beautiful thing about birding in Maine is one will find birds anywhere. One can enjoy birds from the comfort of home, on a hike, driving a car, cross-country skiing, hunting, or really during any outdoor activity. As one begins to pay more attention to birds, it is amazing to see how many species one may have never noticed. In fact, Maine is home to more than 191 wintering bird species.

If one enjoys watching birds, the MDIFW encourages one to share sightings to help guide Maine’s future bird conservation efforts. Every bird sighting counts, even the birds in the backyard. The winter Atlas season is Dec. 14 through March 15. Find more information at the MDWIF.

Maine landowners

Maine’s landowners are a pillar of support for the state’s natural resources, ensuring wildlife populations have diverse habitat, and Mainers have opportunities to live, work, and explore in the outdoors. With more than 20 million acres of forested land under the care of landowners, it is important to the state they have the technical and financial resources available through MDIFWor other organizations and partners.

If one is a Maine landowner, the MDIFW wants to know how they can help you manage or enhance the features of your land in a way that works best. If one is interested in learning how the department and other partners can assist, complete this online form.

Staying connected also will help to keep one updated on efforts to communicate with and better educate Maine’s land users.

Hunting

There are open hunting seasons through the winter months. Targeting a new species is an exciting challenge to learn something new, an opportunity to spend more time outside, create memories with friends and family, and to secure delicious table fare. One may even find a shed deer or moose antler.

On the hunt. Photo courtesy of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Here are a few hunting opportunities:

Snowshoe Hare

One of the enjoyable aspects of hunting in the winter is the ability to easily see fresh animal tracks in the snow. Grab a pair of snowshoes and hire a guide, who may have a trained dog, for an enjoyable winter hunt, or try to find hare located in brushy areas and softwoods stands.

Snowshoe hare season is Sept. 25 through March 31 in all Wildlife Management Districts, with the exception of Vinalhaven, which has a season end date of Feb. 28.

Predators

Maine predator seasons are long providing hunters ample opportunity. Calling is a popular tactic for luring in wary predators. Many seek the help from a registered Maine guide where bobcats are typically hunted using hounds.

Season dates:

Bobcat: Dec. 1 to Feb. 21.

Fox: Oct. 18 to Feb. 28.

Coyote night hunt: Dec. 16 to Aug. 31.

Coyote: Year-round.

Coyote, woodchuck, porcupine, red squirrel: No closed season for hunting.

MaineStay Media/VillageSoup sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com.