WeGo: Next Stop, Millinocket

For a true Maine winter weekend, try ice fishing and snowmobiling in the shadow of Katahdin.

After dog sledding through Carrabassett Valley in the first episode of WeGo, hosts Kat Englishman and Carolyn Brady head north to Millinocket to learn to ice fish and snowmobile. The second episode of Maine magazine’s new video series will take Englishman and Brady to the New England Outdoor Center (NEOC) on the shores of Millinocket Lake. NEOC is open year-round and offers lakeside cabins, a restaurant, guided trips, and access to trails for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat-tire biking.

We spoke with Matt Polstein, owner of NEOC, about what to do when visiting the Katahdin region in late winter. You can watch the second episode of WeGo when it’s released in March at themainemag.com and on our social media channels.

What can people do if they visit the New England Outdoor Center and the region in March and April?

We definitely snowmobile into early April. We’ve got rentals and guided rides and launching for snowmobiling. We have cross-country skiing often into the middle of April. That really will depend on what our snowpack and the spring weather is like. Fat biking on the ski trails and on the bike trails that we’ve been building can be great in March, especially early in the morning, where you get more melting and freezing. As long as the ice is safe, you can continue to ice fish here into April. All of those things, I find, are as fun or more fun to do in March when the sun is higher and it’s warmer and nicer weather.

Do you go ice fishing much yourself?

I tend to do it with my children, who love to do it. They’ve got traps and augers. At the New England Outdoor Center, we also do it as a service. We have guided ice fishing, where we provide the equipment. But I do like to ice fish. Especially on those sunny March days.

When it’s really cold, it can be less fun to just stand outside in the middle of the ice.

Exactly. There are remote ponds around here that have great fishing that are fun to snowmobile or hike into, snowshoe into, bring your gear and again, when the days are warming up in the spring, it can be fun, even when it’s cold. We have portable soft-sided ice fishing shacks now that we can use. It can get you out of the wind, and you can light a fire next to them. It can be pretty comfortable.

Do you have any favorite places to go?

Well, you know how ice fishermen are—we don’t like to publicize our favorite places. We do have favorite places. But I don’t know that I want to see them in print. I don’t think I’d be giving anything away to say Millinocket Lake, right in front of Twin Pines at the New England Outdoor Center, is one of my favorite places. Not because the fishing is necessarily unique or exceptional, but because you can fish in the shadow of Katahdin, and it’s just so beautiful. For those remote ponds, come on up, and we’ll point you in the right direction.

The Millinocket region is obviously popular in the warmer months, but how does the winter compare?

Many people, I think, would be surprised to find out how busy the Katahdin region is in the winter, with people coming in and climbing Katahdin in the spring, camping up at Chimney Pond, and doing ice climbing and skiing. We’ve got 16 miles of cross-country ski trail here, right at Twin Pines. You’ve got all those wonderful trails over on the East Branch at Penobscot River Trails. They’re all open and maintained. It’s all available for the public to use it, no charge. In addition to those facilities, you’ve got significant facilities run by the Northern Timber Cruisers snowmobile club for cross-country skiing, and also the East Branch Sno-Rovers groom for cross-country skiing in East Millinocket. There’s a real range of sites that you can go to, and facilities that you can enjoy for skiing. We’ve developed ice skating here [at NEOC]. And we’re in the process of building a mile-long loop out on the Millinocket Lake that people can skate. Again, that’ll be available to the public at no charge.

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