Last Minute Ice Fishing

text by Steve Vose
photographs by Kate Sfeir

Big Fish

By March, winter’s icy grip on Washington County begins slowly loosening and snow covered landscapes begin springing back to life. This final conclusion, at the end of a long cold winter, always seems to renew my passion to get back into the wilds. Historically warmer days and longer amounts of daylight make all outdoor activities more enjoyable. Gardner Lake Salmon and Monster Pickerel March starts with most waterways ice covered and safe to travel, however, as the month progresses, ice anglers must use extreme care and monitor the ice thickness frequently. This period of transition differs wildly each year, sometimes occurring at a snail’s pace and sometimes happening rapidly and with little warning.

Photograph by Kate Sfeir

Those still ice fishing this month, will typically enjoy some absolutely amazing days on the ice. Past trips have yielded anglers in t-shirts as lunchtime temperatures push almost 60 degrees F. Days like these, spent throwing the pigskin around the ice, make glorious memories even when few fish are caught. For the college crowd at my alma mater the University of Maine at Machias, these types of days meant skipping classes and chasing salmon on Gardner Lake in East Machias. Access to Gardner Lake is easy thanks to a fine-looking boat launch just a few miles outside of the town of East Machias. After the intersection of Route 191 and Route 1, follow Route 1 for an additional 1.5 mi until you see the Chases Mill road on your left. Drive down Chases Mill road until it crosses Chase Mill stream. The landing is immediately after the bridge on the right. Park at the landing and you will see that a short walk to the north, sits a large island that over the years has provided countless ice anglers a base of operations for their day of lazy angling enjoyment. Use care when approaching and especially leaving the island, to stay on the northwestern island shore and walk straight back to the landing. This time of year the ice on the eastern side of the island can begin losing stability due to the shallow water and current created by Chase Mill stream.

Photograph by Kate Sfeir

Salmon populations on Gardner Lake are not what they have been in years past; in the 1960’s 4.5-pound fish were always a possibility. Nowadays, typical salmon run about 16 inches or less, with the lake still producing larger specimens from time to time. Anglers should expect slow fishing for salmon and fairly regular flags triggered by small mouth bass and pickerel. While salmon populations seem to be dropping, chain pickerel populations have been on the rise and it is not unusual to pull one through the ice 20 inches or larger. Look for Gardner Lake on DeLorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 26, B-4.

Photograph by Kate Sfeir

Photograph by Kate Sfeir

The Maine Sportsman – New England’s Largest Outdoor Publication – has assigned me as the writer for the magazine’s monthly Washington County Report. The column will highlight seasonal hunting, fishing and outdoor activities in Washington County, Maine. For more information on the Maine Sportsman Magazine or to order a subscription visit here.

Kate Sfeir has been joining me on my winter ice fishing adventures and taking some fantastic photographs. It is always a struggle to take quality photos of oneself out in the wilds to be used in stories and blog posts. Thanks to Kate and her great eye I now have tons of photos to accompany my writings!