April 08, 2020

Ice-fishing rookies should take it slow

Maybe you’re not into standing on a frozen lake waiting for a flag to spring toward the sky, or running from a heated ice shack to skim a layer of ice from around your traps as a stiff wind picks up a handful of snow and delivers it to parts of your body you thought were exempt.

It might be you’ve always been interested but just never found an ice chisel that fit your hands. You’ve heard stories about the work a power auger could perform with little effort, but you’re still reluctant to spend the money on this sport called ice fishing.

I understand where you’re coming from and that’s why you need to be broken in easy. Returning from your first trip without socks frozen to the bottom of your boots is a must. I definitely don’t want you have to break a window to enter your vehicle because your hands were shaking so much you couldn’t place the key in the door lock. This first outing needs to leave a good taste in your mouth, and keep you as warm as a cat sprawled across a toasty radiator.

So for this maiden outing leave the ice traps hanging in the garage, and keep your credit card in your pocket. That shiny new power ice auger you’re contemplating purchasing from your local Wal-Mart will be there long after the ice has cleared the lakes.

Just fire up the old clunker and aim the hood ornament at a small town south of Augusta called Randolph. It’s only a few miles from our state capital, nestled on the opposite side of the Kennebec River, and it holds claim to some excellent smelt fishing.

I don’t want to give the impression that spending an evening smelt fishing on the Kennebec is as comfortable as watching a bass tournament from your living room, but there’s no doubt it’s a pretty comfortable situation once you occupy a heated ice shack.

Smelt fishing is done entirely from inside the heated walls of a shack because that’s where the fishing hole is. It’s a pretty cheap evening out for a few couples looking for a reason to be excited about winter’s arctic air. I’ll guarantee you once the first wave of smelts tears into your bait, you’ll be hoping for more cold weather so those ice shacks remain on the river.

Although there’s still not enough ice on the rivers to support ice shacks, smelt camp owner Jim Worthing in Randolph has started fishing early, putting a couple of smelt camps into action with floats attached. These floating camps located at the edge of the Kennebec River have already been occupied by a few successful fishing parties. About this time last week a small party left their floating camp with 126 fish in their creel. “Although the best fishing is probably in January,” said Worthing, these floating camps can provide quite a fish fry while we wait for ice to cover the river. If cold weather prevails throughout December, Worthing will be busy setting up smelt camps on the Kennebec to capture the fishing action January brings. He has a heavy arsenal of smelt camps on hand, all equipped with a heater. He also has camps that will host as many as six people. During the busy season, Worthing lights up the shore of the Kennebec with his snack shack, cooking burgers well into the night for hungry anglers.

So slide a few extra dog-eared dollar bills into your billfold and make reservations for a memorable evening out. Call Jim Worthing smelt camps, in Randolph at, 207-582-3199, or send a letter to Jim Worthing, P.O. Box 1073, Gardner 04345.

These cold December days are showing their effects in the east, according to Kurt Cressey, owner of The Pine Tree Store in Grand Lake Stream. As of this past Monday, West Grand Lake was holding a thin cover of ice in Dyer Cove, and Big Lake was completely covered with ice. “At the present time, the ice is a couple weeks ahead of schedule,” Cressey said.

To the south, in the Sebago Lake area, the cold weather is performing early work freezing over a few small bodies of water. Jordan’s Store on Sebago Lake reported the lake is still open, but this year fishing on the lake could be slightly early if this cold spell continues. The lake didn’t freeze over until late January last season, and even then the entire lake wasn’t safe for fishing. Past records show that Sebago needs most of January before fishermen occupy the lake.

Here’s a few more tips on staying warm in the winter, from our Appalachian Trail hiker Brad Viles. Hike in clean clothes during the winter. Dirt and oil from your body clog dead air spaces in clothing. High-calorie foods will help compensate from the effects of cold as well, said Viles.

Answer to last week’s question: Why do moose prefer bedding in deep snow?

Deep snow acts as a blanket and allows the animal to retain body heat.

Question: What is the largest antlered mammal in North America after the moose?

– NEWS staffer Terry Farren, outdoorreport@


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