AUGUSTA — Ice fishing has been solid this winter with plenty of frozen ponds and lakes, which leads to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s free fishing weekend on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 19-20.

After a downright cold January, warmer days on the ice are expected for February and March. The warmer conditions present an opportunity to bring someone ice fishing for their first time, or to rekindle interest in the activity.

On free fishing weekend, any person — except those whose license has been suspended or revoked — may fish without a license. All other laws and regulations apply on these days.

Sun and fun on the ice. Photo courtesy of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Free fishing weekend is the perfect time to get outside and enjoy one of Maine’s signature winter traditions, namely, ice fishing. It is time to get back out there to remember the thrill of the word “FLAG!” Anglers enjoy sharing their passion with others.

With the snow cover and warmer temperatures, the ice may be slushy. To beat the slush, remember these tips:

• Wear tall, waterproof insulated boots to keep feet dry.

• Pack a pair of snowshoes to help stay on top of the snow.

• Especially for children, pack extra gloves and hat in case they get wet. Rain pants over the warmer base layers will help keep them dry.

The shadows of an ice fishing family. Photo courtesy of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

A few tips for introducing someone to ice fishing:

• Target warmwater species such as perch, chain pickerel, and bass for an action-filled day to help first-timers get hooked.

• Bring a warm drink or meal such as hot cocoa, hot dogs, or chili. The experience of being on the ice is what makes ice fishing memorable.

• Make sure they dress warm and pack extra mittens, hats, and socks. Cold hands or feet can be a deal breaker. Make sure they are dressed for the conditions and bring extra gear should something get wet. It is better to have too many layers than not enough.

• Cards, football, cornhole and ice skates makes time between flags just as fun. Or, build a snowman (no extra gear necessary).

• Keep children engaged with a task. If the youngster with you is not quite ready to set a trap fully on their own, keep them engaged with their own responsibilities. It can be as simple as holding the skimmer, scooping the bait fish, or picking where the next whole will be.

• Focus on the fun. For newbies, it is not about a trophy fish. Avoid long walks, and aim for a half day … anything beyond that is a bonus.

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

• Leave no trace — Carry out all you carry in.

• Park in public or designated areas — Do not 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, bring it home with you.

MaineStay Media/VillageSoup sports staff can be reached by email at