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Outdoor news

Free fishing week Feb. 13-21; ice safety paramount for winter fun

Mills administration creates free fishing license week, encourages Maine residents to enjoy outdoors
By Staff | Feb 10, 2021
Courtesy of: Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Augusta — Governor Janet Mills has signed an executive order to create a “Free Fishing License Week” Saturday to Sunday, Feb. 13-21 when people who register may fish for free without a license on Maine’s waterways.

Since the pandemic began, Mills and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Judy Camuso have encouraged people to enjoy the outdoors.

“Exploring the great outdoors in Maine is a healthy and safe way to spend time during the pandemic,” said Mills. “As an avid angler myself, it is my hope that this week of free fishing will encourage Maine people to enjoy the outdoors.”

In order to participate in “Free Fishing License Week,” people need to register online at mefishwildlife.com/icefishing.

Any person who registers may fish for free without a license on Maine’s waterways from Feb. 13-21, except those who have had their license suspended or revoked. All other rules and regulations, including bag and possession limits, apply. The dates coincide with public schools’ February vacation.

With 6,000 lakes and ponds, it is easy to spread out and enjoy other's company while staying safe and following COVID protocols.

Those ages 15 and younger do not need to register.

“No matter your age, spending time outside can boost your physical, mental and emotional health, which is more important now during the pandemic than ever before,” said Camuso. “Ice fishing is an excellent opportunity to get outside safely this winter and I encourage everyone to take advantage of 'Free Fishing License Week' to do so.”

The governor’s executive order extends the "Family Fishing Weekends." The legislature created family fishing weekends years ago, recognizing the importance of getting people outside and introducing them to a lifetime activity of fishing, MDIFW officials state.

The executive order builds on her work to expand access to outdoor activity during the pandemic, like suspending the need for a fishing license in April and extending boating registrations in the spring of 2020.

Last year, more than 345,000 people were licensed to fish in Maine and fishing contributes more than $370 million to Maine’s economy.

Bring someone ice fishing for first time

For beginners, it is all about making sure they stay comfortable and keeping the day fun.

After all, ice fishing is about so much more than the "catch." For many, it is about the views, time spent outside with friends and family, and made memories.

Here are tips:

Target warmwater species such as bass, pickerel, and perch for a fast-action day. Once the angler is hooked, you can move onto the harder to catch coldwater game fish if desired.

• Cook a warm meal. It is hard to beat a hamburger or homemade breakfast sandwich on the ice. Pair it with hot chocolate for a perfect winter picnic.

• Pick a sunny, low-wind day. Otherwise, set up in a wind-protected cove or shore.

• Pack extra, dry pairs of socks, mittens, and a hat and make sure the new fishing partner dresses warm.

• Bring other activities to keep the group engaged between flags. Consider bringing ice skates, a hockey stick and puck, football to toss, binoculars, or cards. Or, build a snowman.

• Choose an easily-accessible location. For beginners, comfort is a priority. Pick locations close to access points when snow depths are minimum for easy walking.

• Keep the day short. Save more adventurous trips for another day.

• Enjoy. For many outdoor enthusiasts, the thrill of sharing knowledge with a novice is as exciting as the hobby itself.

Links for fishing in Maine

For people who have never ice fished or those who would like to learn more about ice fishing: check out the department’s Guide To Ice Fishing. The guide will help teach about essential gear, how to find a place to go, and what to do.

For people wondering where to go to ice fish or where the fish are biting: check the February fishing report compiled by MDIFW fisheries biologists.

For people who hope to purchase a fishing license outside of “Free Fishing License Week,” visit mefishwildlife.com. There are license options for a day, a week, 15 days or a season. The cost for a day of fishing is less than a ticket to the movies and children younger than 16 always fish free.

Money from license sales helps protect Maine’s waters, enhance Maine’s fisheries and provide water access on many of Maine’s lakes and rivers.

For people looking to find out which locations have been stocked recently: visit maine.gov/ifw/fishing-boating/fishing/fishing-resources/fish-stocking-report.html. The department stocks more than one million fish each year and manages more than 20 species of freshwater game fish.

For a complete list of fishing regulations, including limits and sizes, visit maine.gov/ifw/fishing-boating/index.html.

For more information on fishing opportunities in Maine, visit maine.gov/ifw/fishing-boating/fishing/fishing-resources/maine-fishing-guide/index.html.

Ice safety

Remember to always use extreme caution when venturing onto Maine's waterways. Accessing lakes and ponds should be avoided unless one can be certain of ice conditions by checking ice thickness.

Before stepping out, use a chisel or auger to test ice thickness in several places. Remember that ice seldom freezes uniformly and conditions are always changing and can vary from one location to the next. Ice that forms over flowing water and currents, especially near streams, bridges and culverts, can be particularly dangerous.

Before you head for a day of ice fishing, always tell someone where you are going and when you will return.

Ice fishing is a significant part of Maine's outdoor heritage. MDIFW officials said to 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.

• Bring some of your catch home — In certain waters, the department encourages the harvest of fish in order to maintain healthy fish populations and improve the fishery. Bring some of your catch home for dinner or to share with a friend.

Courier Publications' sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com or by phone at 594-4401.

(Courtesy of: Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife)
(Courtesy of: Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife)
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