A mild winter and early ice-out conditions on Maine lakes and ponds has prompted the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to scrap the traditional April 1 opening day of open-water fishing season this year.
Instead, fishing season opens Thursday, March 17, on all bodies of water that were scheduled to open on April 1.
“We had a short ice fishing season, so this really allows anglers to get out and enjoy some time on the water, which they weren’t able to do in a lot of places as much as they would have liked this winter,” said Mark Latti, DIF&W outreach and communications coordinator.
Latti explained that by amending the existing rule that sets opening day of fishing season, the department was able to respond to existing conditions. The commissioner of the DIF&W is allowed to amend the opening date in a specific year should conditions warrant it.
“We do have the flexibility to open the season early, and with the short winter we had, this made a lot of sense,” Latti said.
The action isn’t without precedent: Back in 2010, Gov. John Baldacci opened the season on March 25 by signing an emergency bill after a very mild spring. The process for altering the opening date has been changed in state statutes since then. Now the department’s commissioner has the power to change opening dates for fishing without legislative approval or the governor’s signature if weather conditions are abnormally mild, Latti said.
According to a DIF&W press release, early anglers are likely to find more fish available in waters that were largely inaccessible to ice fishermen over the winter.
An important point, according to the DIF&W: The early opening day does not apply to waters that have special season-opening dates later than April 1. Also: If a lake currently has ice, and anglers are fishing on that ice, they will still be allowed to do so.
In addition, any restrictive S-codes — not keeping any fish before April 1, for instance — are still in effect on some waters.
The Maine Warden service is urging boaters to wear life preservers, especially early in the season, because the water will remain dangerously cold for quite some time.