The secret's out: Seven waters near Rangeley now open to ice fishing

·5 min read

Jan. 16—TOWNSHIP D — It was 1 degree on the outskirts of Rangeley last Saturday. And on certain ice fishing ponds where the wind was whipping, exposed fingers froze quickly.

But at Beaver Pond a half hour outside Rangeley, the Buzzell party was in high spirits four hours into an outing to a newly opened ice fishing pond. That's despite the fact that when they arrived an hour after sunrise, their pop-up ice shack broke — leaving them without protection from the Arctic elements.

"It's a long story," said Jayson Buzzell of Greene with a laugh.

The group's spirits remained high because they were the only fishermen on one of seven ponds recently opened to ice fishing in the Rangeley Lakes Region, a part of the state with few ice fishing options.

The Rangeley region boasts 119 of the state's nearly 600 Maine Heritage Fish Waters, which have wild brook trout or Arctic charr and have never been stocked or stocked in at least 25 years. Previously, the region had less than 30 waters open to ice fishing compared to southern and central Maine, where all waters are open year round.

In western Maine, biologists have worked to protect wild trout fisheries and some stocked fisheries from added fishing pressure.

This winter, however, in response to high demand, state biologists opened seven additional ponds — roughly a third more of the region's waters — to ice fishing, all of which are stocked. All seven likely have not been fished in the winter in over a century, said Liz Thorndike, the state fisheries resource supervisor in the region.

The first fish and game law book was published by the state in 1893, and Thorndike said as far as biologists can tell, the new waters have not been open to ice fishing since then.

"We continue to get requests for ice fishing opportunity in the region," Thorndike said. "These new ice fishing waters were carefully selected and reviewed to increase fishing opportunities, while not posing any adverse risk to native fish populations."

The Rangeley region is a vast area of the state — about 4,300 square miles, or four-fifths the size of Connecticut.

Six of the seven new waters are within 25 miles of Rangeley, with Austin Pond near Bingham the outlier. All but two take some work to get there, either hiking or snowmobiling in. The idea was to provide more opportunity for more people — but still keep the fishing pressure low.

"They're pretty remote. We don't anticipate high use," Thorndike said. "The waters you can walk to tend to get a lot of use. These waters we anticipate a couple of parties, potentially 30 people, instead of hundreds."

Sandy River Ponds and Beaver Pond are the two that offer easy access because they are situated by major roads. Sandy River Ponds in Sandy River Plantation is just off Route 4 and Beaver Pond in Township D is beside Route 17, just past the Height of Land.

The other four waters near Rangeley are Lincoln Pond, Loon Lake, Pepperpot Pond and Toothaker Pond.

Thorndike said it will take a while for word to get out — as it often does when new ice fishing waters come online.

"If people have 2021 fishing books and not the 2022 fishing law books, then they're not going to know about the new waters," said Mert Buzzell, a fishing and hunting guide who came to fish Beaver Pond last weekend.

Buzzell, a Registered Maine Guide who rents cabins to fishermen, hunters and snowmobilers, said the new waters will be an instant draw for visiting snowmobilers.

"I get calls all the time from snowmobilers staying in our cabins, asking where they can ice fish," Buzzell said.

Buzzell's son, Jayson, came up from Greene to fish the region for the first time on Jan. 8. Jayson Buzzell ice fishes around his home in Greene four days a week — but fishes near his parents' sporting camp near Rangeley only in the summer.

"We saw the post about it by the River's Edge (Sport), the fishing outfitter in town. I don't think we would have known if we had not seen the post," Jayson Buzzell said.

Last Saturday by midmorning at Sandy River Ponds, not a single ice fisherman was on the frozen water — but about a dozen ice traps were set out by those in two nearby trucks parked within view.

The large party of a half dozen ice fishermen took shelter in the trucks as they watched for flags flying. Josh Therrien and Colby Varney, two in the party from Turner, said it was worth being there in the frigid temperatures to try the new waters.

About a half hour from Rangeley where Mount Blue Pond in Avon opened to ice fishing in 2016, ice fishermen were out early in the frigid temperatures. The pond has become a favorite spot for locals, sometimes drawing as many as 70 on a weekend. Four people who came last Saturday didn't know about the newly opened waters, but seemed eager to try them.

"For sure I will try them. This is convenient. It's near our camp. But I'd like to mix it up. It's good exercise and it gets you outside," said Heidi Whittier, a nursing student from New Gloucester who was on school break at her family's camp. She came out at 4 a.m. to ice fish from a pop-up shack with her dog.

Tyler Everett and his father, Dan, traveled two-and-a-half hours from Standish to fish at Mount Blue Pond. They said the waters in the Rangeley region freeze well before the ones in southern Maine — and offer more trout and salmon fishing, making it worth the trip.

Traveling a bit farther north to fish the newly opened waters was a no-brainer, they said.

"You can get out on the ice here earlier up here. You feel safer. There's still a lot of open water in southern Maine," Tyler Everett said. "And it's not bad — you stop and get a breakfast sandwich and you can be here by 8. We absolutely will try the new waters."

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