January Ice Fishing Tips – On The Water

Ice fishing season is upon us!

Maine’s lakes and ponds are starting to freeze, and for many Mainers and visitors, that means ice fishing season! But before heading for a day of fishing, you must remember that ice conditions are always 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 that the spot you typically fish in January may not be safe yet. Smaller water bodies such as ponds typically freeze first, and can be a good option for early season fishing. Always check for yourself and follow these ice safety tips.

These guidelines are for new, clear (blue) ice on lakes and ponds. Ice is never 100% safe! White ice or “snow ice” is only about half as strong as new clear ice.

Under 4” – STAY OFF
4” – may allow for Ice fishing or other recreational activities on foot
5” – 7” – often allows for a Snowmobile or ATV
8” – 12” of good ice supports most cars or small pickups
12” – 15” will likely hold a medium sized truck

PLEASE NOTE: These thicknesses are merely guidelines for new, clear, solid ice. Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe. Always check before you go!

Now, for some 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 5 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: All season long you will hear fisheries biologists tell you 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 are always 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 the sport of ice fishing, no matter their age, target warmwater 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 off 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.

Find additional fishing tips and recommended places to try in the January fishing report from Maine’s fisheries biologists.

Enjoy your day on the ice, and remember these tips…

 There is no question, ice fishing is a large part of Maine’s outdoor heritage. Enjoy your ice fishing trip, and remember:

  • Leave no trace – Carry out all that you carry in.
  • Park in public or designated areas – Don’t 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, please bring it home with you. 

To keep or to 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 in 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 you look up the special fishing laws on these waters, you’ll see that they allow for increased harvest of those overly abundant fish species. Learn how to bring home a quality catch here.

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

How to safely catch and release:

  • 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 – don’t 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. Learn more about proper catch and release.

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