Ice fishing for landlocked Atlantic salmon on Keoka Lake in Waterford, Oxford County, Maine (February 27, 2022)

Keoka Lake covers 467 acres and is located in Waterford, Oxford County, Maine (see The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map 10 D4). Public access is via the boat launch located right next to Route 35. Parking is on the road shoulder. However, beware that it may be next to impossible to leave a vehicle if the road shoulder is filled with plowed snow, as is the case for me today. One obvious alternative is to park your vehicle next door, on the lot in front of the Waterford Historical Society building. I see no signs forbidding this practice, but do not know if it is frowned upon.

 

 

A beautiful after-sunset view of Keoka Lake from the boat launch on my way out.

 

I have driven past Keoka Lake a million times over the years on my way to fishing spots further north in Oxford County, but never took the time to check it out. Well, that’s changing today. The lake is surprisingly undeveloped, with most of the houses located along the western shore. The surrounding countryside is deeply forested, with Mount Tire’m just to the west overlooking the pretty scenery. Keoka Lake supports both a brook trout and a landlocked Atlantic salmon fishery. My focus today is exclusively on the latter. Over the last three years, the state has stocked this body of water each fall with 120 11- to 12- inch landlocks and 30 15- to 17- inch landlocks, which amounts to about one salmon for every three acres. That is a normal stocking density for this species in Maine and typically makes for slow fishing. A review of the depth map before my departure shows that the lake is actually relatively shallow considering its ability to support a year-round salmon population, which much of the fishable water only 30 to 40 ft. deep. I identify an area about 1000 ft. from the boat launch where the depth reaches 31 ft. to 42 ft. That’s where I’ll set up camp. Ice fishing falls under the general fishing laws, but with a daily bag limit of one legal-size salmon.

 

A peaceful scenery of Keoka Lake at sunset, with Mount Tire’m in the background. Route 35 runs along the shoreline.

 

I reach the boat launch at 1:30 pm. No one is fishing and I don’t see any shacks on the ice. Mmm, I double-check the fishing regulations online just to make sure that I didn’t miss something. Nope, I’m good: Keoka Lake is indeed open to ice fishing. Southern Maine is enjoying a glorious late-winter day with unlimited sunshine, temps in the high 20’s, and only a hint of a breeze. I decide to take it very easy this afternoon given these conditions. I brought my foldable chair, a newspaper, snacks, and a large can of hard cider. The plan is to let the traps do all the work (no jigging today) while I sit down, read, munch, enjoy my drink, and relax in the sun! The hike to my selected location is a bear because the 5 inches of fresh snow that fell yesterday make it hard to pull my loaded sled. I also have to stop several times along the way to check the water depth (the ice is 17 inches thick). I finally arrive at my destination by 2 pm and drill five holes. I deploy my tip-ups baited with small shiners placed 4 ft., 8 ft., 12 ft., 16 ft., and 20 ft. below the ice. This staggered approach allows me to probe different depths and then adjust the height of the baitfish depending on which traps generate flags.

 

It looks like all the weird flag action this afternoon may have been salmon-related after all!

 

Nothing happens for the first hour and a half. But then I get six flags between 3:30 and 5 pm! All six come from two traps: the first and the third (i.e., baitfish placed 4 ft. and 12 ft. below the ice). I adjust the three remaining traps to these two depths but they don’t trigger. Strangely, the first five flags result in stolen bait with line taken but with none of the spools running when I arrive. Instead, the lines just hang limply vertically down. This just doesn’t look or feel like salmon trickery. The only scenario I can think of is that schooling perch or bass lurking on the bottom swim up, snatch the bait, and move back down. But the sixth flag proves otherwise… I reach the trap within 10 seconds after the flag triggers. The fish took line but it hangs vertically down and the spool isn’t turning. I nonetheless lift the trap out of the water, slowly bring in the line, and set the hook as soon as I feel resistance. And to my surprise, a 12-inch salmon plops on the ice! I’ll be damned: it looks like the five previous hits were salmon flags! I’ve never seen such strange behavior from this species, but it goes to show that fish will do their own thing when it suits them!

 

The results: I caught one short landlocked Atlantic salmon in 3 hours of fishing.

Was the information in this blog useful? I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions. Also, feel free to discuss your fishing experiences at this location.

 

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