Spring be damned, we needed one more day on the ice. Southern ponds had largely thawed so we got the band back together, sort of. We assembled nine die-hards: three sharpies from Connecticut, the two owners of Al’s Goldfish Lure Company, the Maine Fishing TV crew and Maine Guide Justin Petelle. We needed tight lines and lunch grilled on the ice so we set our sights on Sabattus Lake just outside of Auburn, Maine.
Calvin Fort, Juan Roman and David Carter are social media fishing celebrities with the Fishing Connecticut Waters group and, aside from their clear fishing prowess and endless fish stories, are hysterically funny. Jeff and Mandy DeBuigne brought a slew of lures which are proven dynamite on pike, crappies, bass and almost anything with fins. Preserving for posterity all the antics, jokes, catches and solid advice was Steve Beckwith and Edward Jellison of Maine Fishing TV. Steve sports a wicked pissah rollercoaster of a mustache with a lifetime in the Maine woods and waters and has run Maine Hunting TV since 1999. Ed only needs to say a few words for folks to understand how much he knows about catching fish. They have 8500 viewers a month on their Roku station with an obvious passion for living life to the fullest. You can see episodes and trailers at www.mainefishingtv.com.
Justin Petelle was our guide to Sabattus. Incidentally, Jason’s last name does not rhyme with pedal. You only need to be corrected for that mistake once. He runs Maine Fishing with Justin, shines with a quick, dry wit and is as at home on a frozen pond as he is in the woods. Maine Guide certifications are hard-earned achievements. Guides take Merit smoking jokers from New Jersey who want to bucket list a bear but won’t listen to advice and eight year olds who want to catch their first largemouth through the ice. They work in all weather with skills of patience, counsel and situational awareness. They’re also trained to calmly handle catastrophic events, which we had on this trip. It was me not catching any fish while everyone else drained cell phone batteries with fishy selfies.
After a 4 a.m. start, we drove through Lewiston and a giant fog bank hanging over the Kennebec River which smelled just like a newly legalized medicinal plant. Jason noted dryly, “That’s not fog, that’s Lewiston.” Next stop was Dag’s Bait and Tackle in Auburn to get shiners. While we all piled in past the plastic curtain protecting the bait room, under the Employees Only sign, the manager said, “These are the jumbo’s here but we don’t have any.” A classic bait and switch.
Sabattus Pond has a makeshift entrance just after Hot Dog Road. I’m unsure if it was named after one of those creepy red snappers that Mainers love so much or a regular Fenway hawt dawg. Before driving out on the ice, Jason advised us to open our windows; apparently it’s tough to get doors open when you’re sinking as all that water puts up some resistance. Good Maine Guides like to keep things practical and easy. Putting his new F250 into four wheel drive, after unexpectedly testing out its skid plate, we raced across 25’” of ice and eight inches of slush. It’s wild to run a pond, praying the ice is even all the way out, passing gaudy pink and green snowmobiles, four wheelers dragging sleds and the not so occasional one room shack on plywood skis being towed by a Chevy pickup with more rust than metal and without the weight burden of front quarter panels. Maine, the way life should be.
Justin’s propane powered Jiffy auger made short work of the ice in 45 spots covering a wide swath. He worked a circle around the three pickups we had purposely not parked too close together to avoid the embarrassment of sinking in unison. A few tip ups were set in four feet of water but there was really no reason to expect pike would be in shallow yet and largemouth tend to hold where there’s structure or water temperatures slightly south of frozen solid.
Skies were partly cloudy, which is good for skittish pike, winds were fair, air temperature was a cozy 40F. It was more than an hour before any flags, which left time for grilling and quenching thirsts. The wind arrived with lunch. Things started to happen. Pike in the 20-25” range started hitting the larger of the four dozen extra large baits on the outside then the crappies started feeding. Ed leaned over a flag, holding everyone back at first, saying, “I like to see a little more movement. Give her a little slack, a little more, now set it!” Jeff landed a beast. Mandy landed two more as Jeff ran to haul in and pose with another pike. Even with a river of boot-busting water and heavy slush, everyone ran whenever an orange flag sprung up high. Justin was usually the first on the scene, smiling all the way.
Then largemouth bass found the shallow shiners and everyone was hoisting fish, posing for the camera, talking about the one person not doing any of that. It was odd to see so many bass in four feet of water before Spring even had a chance of making her appearance but they were hungry and may have been searching for some sun warmth. After a slow start, the ice was on fire for a few hours. The fish count was lost to a wet notebook on account of 25 knot winds that peeled away then submerged anything not tied down.
It’ll be good to report about largemouth and stripers next week but for now, the winter sunburn earned from a day on the ice is so sweet a reminder of why sportsmen love being outdoors, no matter what state calls them or how many fish they catch. Or don’t.
Todd Corayer is a lifelong fisherman who lives not far from Rhode Island’s Saugatucket River with his wife, who supports his fishing mainly to get him out of the house and a young son who consistently catches more fish than him.