Panther Pond is a 1,439-acre body of water located in Raymond, Cumberland County, Maine (see the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map 5 B2). Access to the main basin of the lake during the ice-fishing season is via permissive trespass through a small private beach associated with Slovenski Camp. To gain access via this entry point, drive north on Route 121 (Meadow Road) towards the town of Casco and turn right on David Plummer Road (look for the discrete Slovenski Camp sign). Drive down that road for about 600 ft. Beware that this road may be slippery in the winter. The open gate to the beach will be on your left. Drive up further for another 50-100 ft. and park your car in the available open space.
Panther Pond and I have met many times over the years. It supports a healthy smallmouth bass population, which has a well-deserved reputation for producing trophy-sized, hard-fighting bass both under the ice and during open-water fishing. I particularly like to target this species in mid- to late March when the fish start to congregate in shallower water closer to the bouldery shorelines in anticipation of the spawn in May. Also, by late winter, days lengthen, temperatures moderate, and conditions get less harsh than earlier in the season. Keep in mind though that this lake only reluctantly gives up its smallmouth bass under the ice. While I would definitely characterize it as a “slow” ice fishing pond, the quality of the bass is usually excellent. Ice fishing occurs under the general fishing law provisions. Click here for a depth map and more fisheries information.
I reach the access point to Panther Pond at the crack of dawn (6 am), get my gear ready, and quickly walk parallel to Betty’s Neck towards the end of that peninsula. Fortunately, the snow on top of the ice is all gone (a nice perk when fishing in late winter!) and the ice is smooth and glare. It’s a good thing I’ve got my cleats on because it is mighty slippery! It takes about 10 minutes of easy walking to reach my destination. The strategy is to drill four holes perpendicular to the shoreline in about 15 to 30+ ft. of water, and place the bait fish 2 ft. off the bottom. I then drill a parallel set of jigging holes. The bass are schooling somewhere down there and it’s a matter of finding where they’re hiding and then adjusting the set-up accordingly. I’m all set up by 7 am and start jigging. Nothing happens for one slow hour when suddenly the flag of my trap placed over 18 ft. of water snaps to attention. I quickly reach the hole, see the spool slowly turning, carefully pick up the trap, and set the hook. Yessiree, there’s something big and angry down there! A fat 19.5″ bronzeback pokes it’s head through the hole when the hook suddenly pops out of its wide-open mouth! Sh*t! I immediately drop the line, plunge both hands into the hole before the fish regains its senses, and scoop it right out of the water on the ice. I want to take bragging pictures of this big fella before releasing it!
Based on this important signal, I drill two new holes within a 20-ft. radius of this hole and bring in my two farthest traps with the bait placed 2 ft. off the bottom. I go back to jigging and the waiting game continues. A second flag goes up in the same 18 ft. hole 25 minutes later and yields a fast-running 16″ smallmouth. There’s something going on down there… I drill three new holes within a 10-ft. radius of the honey hole and place all three remaining traps in those locations with the baitfish placed right off the bottom. And I go back to jigging. Then a third flag pops in the 18-ft. trap! This is just so bizarre…I feel another hefty fish when I set the hook. My goodness, this one feels even bigger than the first one. As well it should: it’s a healthy 21 incher! What a brute and a beauty. And then the bite stops and I unfortunately need to head back home to start my work day. I jigged for about two hours this morning and did not get one hit. Strangely enough, moving the three traps within spitting distance of the 18 ft. deep hole also did not yield a single additional flag. Instead, all the action came out of that one honey hole, for reasons only understood by the fish below…
The results: I caught three smallmouth bass (the largest fish measured 21”) after 2 hours of fun early morning ice fishing.
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