Melting ice spells end of smelt season in Mid-Coast Maine

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BRUNSWICK — Smelt season ended early this year for Deasy Edwards.

Last Sunday afternoon, wearing a T-shirt and jeans, Edwards weaved around patches of thin ice as he pulled his smelt shack from the Androscoggin River near Baybridge Landing.

Although he put his shack out less than a month ago, warm temperatures and rain forced the Pownal resident to call it quits a full month before the official end of smelt season on March 15.

“It’s getting so sketchy,” he said, pointing to a jagged break in the ice less than 100 feet from the closest shack.

Edwards isn’t the only fisherman to declare a premature end to smelt season. 

At the ice fishing camps at Water Street and Baybridge Landing, the footprints of ice shacks – long rectangles cut in the ice where fishermen hung their hooks – now outnumber the shacks that remain. And some commercial smelt camps, like Jim’s in Bowdoinham and James Eddy in Dresden, have already closed.

“The rivers are opening up. There’s a lot of open places on all the rivers, and there’s no frost in the ice, so it’s really not safe for anybody to be out there,” said Sharon James, whose sons own James Eddy.

James said she likes to have 6 inches of ice to let people into the shacks, but there are only 3 inches right now. With rain predicted this week, she said it just didn’t make sense to keep the camp open.

Not only is the 2012 season ending early, but James Eddy didn’t open until Jan. 19 – about a month later than normal.

Recreational fishermen also got a late start.

Roger Robbins, of Portland, said Sunday was his first time out this season. Robbins, who has been ice fishing for over 50 years, said the ice needs to be at least 4 inches thick for him to put a shack out. Usually that happens before Jan. 1, but many fishermen said they couldn’t get their shacks on the ice until late January.

But the ice is better in the Mid-Coast than farther south. Sebago Lake didn’t even freeze this year, causing organizers to cancel the annual fishing derby and driving Tim Brown, of Gray, to Brunswick to fish on the frozen Androscoggin River.

Jeff Clay drove even farther. He traveled three hours from Alton, N.H., to fish Merrymeeting Bay six times this year because the ice never arrived where he lives.

“New Hampshire rivers are not safe at all,” he said.

Despite the short season, Clay said this year has been pretty good for ice fishing, especially on Super Bowl Sunday. Everyone was listening to the game on their radios, and he almost filled three five-gallon buckets with smelt – about 120 pounds.

But the smelt weren’t biting this past Sunday, when Clay and his fishing buddy Bill Carlin, of Lebanon, were hunkered down behind Baybridge Landing in their collapsible tent. Instead of filling buckets with smelt, they tossed in empty coffee cups and pizza boxes.

Despite the slow day on Sunday and the encroaching open water, Durham resident Tom Page and his son, Luke, were still having a good time out on the ice near Water Street. They played football, skidding across the river as they waiting for the smelt to find their hooks.

“There’s not a lot of action here, but I got to be honest,” Page said. “The action is secondary.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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Deasy Edwards pulls his ice fishing shack off of the Androscoggin River at Baybridge Landing in Brunswick on Sunday, Feb. 19, after a disappointingly short season. A typical season could last well into March, but on the river “it’s getting so sketchy,” he said, pointing at patches of thin ice just a few dozen feet from the fishing shacks.

Tom Page sets a fishing line, hoping to catch pike at a popular fishing spot on the Androscoggin River near Water Street in Brunswick on Sunday, Feb. 19. This year’s ice fishing season started late and appears to be ending early, as many fishermen have already begun pulling their shacks from the river.

Roger Robbins, left, and Tom Page wait for smelt to bite in their ice fishing shack on the Androscoggin River near Water Street in Brunswick on Sunday, Feb. 19. The ice beneath their shack was at least 8 inches thick, but towards the middle of the river, thin ice was easily visible. Many local fishermen had already pulled their shacks from the ice as the season comes to an early end.