Frequently Asked Questions

Is it legal to harvest fresh water mussels in Maine?

Three of Maine's ten freshwater mussel species are listed as Threatened under the Maine Endangered Species Act and are protected from harvest. These are the yellow lampmussel, tidewater mucket, and brook floater. Harvest of the remaining seven non-listed species for export, sale or commercial purposes would require a permit from IFW under a new law in 2011 (see:http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/12/title12sec12161.html). Unless the person doing the harvest can demonstrate proficiency at identifying mussels to species, IFW would likely restrict collecting locations as well as limit numbers and harvest methods, etc.

Harvest of non-listed species for personal use is not regulated. However, be advised that consumption of freshwater mussels is not recommended for several reasons – most compelling would be 1) they taste really really bad; 2) mussels are long-lived (30-100+ years) filter feeders who can assimilate toxins and contaminants in their body tissues over long periods of time; and 3) freshwater mussels are one of the most endangered groups of organisms and many species have declined due to degradation and alteration of aquatic habitats and water quality – even some common species can experience local declines when another stressor such as over- harvest occurs on top of other problems.

How do I tell the difference between a largemouth and a smallmouth bass?

Largemouth bass have a black horizontal stripe running down their side and the upper jaw bone extends caudally past (behind) the eye. Smallmouth bass are greenish to bronze in color with no black stripe running down their side and a smaller mouth with the upper jaw only extending to the middle of the eye.

Learn more about DIFW’s Black Bass Management Plan.

Is the Alabama Rig legal in Maine?

The Alabama rig is legal to use in Maine with the following stipulations, there can only be a single baited hook on the line, the other lines can have artificial lures but you can only have a single baited hook. If used strictly for artificial lures you can have as many lures on a line as desired.

How do I tell the difference between brown trout and landlocked Atlantic salmon?

Brown troutare golden to silvery bronze in color and have scattered red and black spots on their sides, the margin of the adipose fin (small fatty fin on the back between the dorsal fin and tail fin) is typically red or orange in color, a thick caudal peduncle (section of fish between the body and tail), and a square caudal fin (tail). Brown trout have prominent sharp teeth (vomerine teeth) midline in the roof of their mouth. Landlocked Atlantic salmon are silver and have many X-shaped black spots but no red spots on their sides. Salmon usually have a forked tail and have fewer, less well developed vomerine teeth clustered near the front edge of the mouth.

Even fisheries biologists have trouble at times correctly differentiating between brown trout and landlocked Atlantic salmon which is why they always look at the vomerine tooth pattern. Here is a useful illustration to aid in identifying your fish: www.maine.gov/ifw/fishing/species/identification/salmon_browntrout.htm

How do I tell the difference between a landlocked Atlantic salmon and an anadromous (sea-run) Atlantic salmon?

Physically you can not tell the difference, because landlocked Atlantic salmon and anadromous Atlantic salmon are each a subspecies of the same species (Salmo salar). The difference between these fish is their life cycle. Anadromous Atlantic salmon migrate to the Atlantic Ocean to mature, returning to spawn in freshwater rivers and streams; whereas landlocked Atlantic salmon reside their entire lives in Maine’s freshwater lakes and rivers.

Anadromous Atlantic salmon are usually much larger than landlocked Atlantic salmon because they have spent most of their lives in the ocean, which provides far more food resources and therefore greater growth of the anadromous Atlantic salmon. The difficulty in identification has resulted in the establishment of a 25 inch maximum length limit for brown trout and landlocked Atlantic salmon in waters where anadromous Atlantic salmon may be found in an effort to prevent anglers from harvesting the federally endangered anadromous Atlantic salmon.

How do I tell the difference between splake and Eastern brook trout?

It can be difficult to differentiate between a splakeand an Eastern brook trout. Splake have many creamy white spots on their sides with a few red spots mostly located on the lower sides of the fish. They do not have the distinct blue halos around the red dots that brook trout prominently exhibit. Splake also have forked tails. Eastern brook trout have creamy white spots along with many red spots with very distinguishable blue halos. Brook trout also have square caudal fins (tails).

Can splake spawn?

Splake are hybrid fish created by mating a female lake trout and male brook trout. Splake do become sexually mature and their eggs have been artificially fertilized in a hatchery setting. While they have been stocked in the U.S since the late 1800’s there has been no scientific documentation of successful splake reproduction in the wild. They have been observed going through the motions of spawning, yet in these cases, no young were ever produced. Successful reproduction in the wild requires synchronized physiological, morphological, chronological, and behavioral characteristics that splake do not possess.

Why can’t I mark the fish that I catch and release?

There are three basic reasons why DIFW does not allow anglers to mark fish that they catch and release:

  1. If not properly performed fish marking or tagging can injure or kill the fish, which can affect population numbers and anglers’ fishing success in the future.
  2. As DIFW Fisheries biologists and other fisheries researchers in Maine mark and tag fish in order to conduct studies on fish populations having anglers mark fish could negatively impact these studies. These marking projects provide important data for research, and for developing management strategies and fishing regulations.
  3. The vast majority of anglers want to catch fish in their natural condition and not with tags attached to them.

Do all stocked fish have fins clipped?

No. Fisheries biologists and culturists do not clip stocked fish unless they are planning to evaluate such factors as: fish age, fish growth, strain evaluations of a particular species, angler catch rates, or angler harvest on waters where fish are stocked.

Why do fisheries biologists take scales from fish?

Fisheries biologists take scales from fish to determine the age of an individual fish. Scales are removed from the side of the fish, generally in the area just under the dorsal fin. Back in the laboratory the scales are placed under the lens of a micro-projector to magnify the scale image. Biologists then examine the patterns of growth rings on the scale to determine the age of a fish, similar to how a forester ages a tree.

“Reading” scales provides biologists with additional information about the fish, including whether or not the fish is wild or stocked, growth rates during previous years, or for some species, whether the fish spawned and in which years.

In fish species without scales or in long lived fishes when scale aging is not an accurate method for determining age, biologists use other fish parts such as otoliths, fin spines or even bones. All these structures also possess aging rings that develop as a result of a fast summer growth and slow winter growth pattern repeatedly deposited on these structures as the fish grows annually.

What are the black spots I see on some of the fish I catch? Are they okay to eat?

The black spots that can occur on most freshwater fishes in Maine are a juvenile flatworm parasite called “Neascus”. These young parasites have burrowed into the skin of a host fish and are dormant, waiting for a piscivorous (fish eating) bird to consume its host fish. Once inside the piscivorous bird, the trematode matures into an adult and begins laying eggs that are excreted in the bird’s feces.

Fish with the black spot parasite are safe to cook and eat.

What are the yellow “grubs” that I see in some of the fish I catch? Are they okay to eat?

The yellow/white grubs that can occur on freshwater fishes in Maine are a juvenile flatworm parasite called “Clinostomum” . These young parasites have burrowed into the flesh of the host fish and are dormant, waiting for a piscivorous (fish eating) bird to consume its host fish. Once inside the piscivorous bird, the trematode matures into an adult and begins laying eggs that are excreted in the bird’s feces. In Maine, yellow perch are the fish species most often observed with yellow grub infestations. Other fish species that you might find yellow grub in include: chain pickerel, brown bullhead (hornpout), largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, and red breast sunfish.

Fish with the yellow grub parasite are safe to cook and eat.

What are the circular wounds I see on fish?

The circular scars on fish are often the result of a parasitic sea lamprey that has attached itself to a host fish in order feed on the fish’s blood. These circular scars are the result of adult lampreys using their jawless mouth and horny teeth to rasp away the fish’s scales and skin creating a circular bleeding wound. Sometimes fish will perish due to blood loss or infection but more often the fish survives the lamprey attack, eventually healing its wounds which leaves a tell-tale circular scar.

Sea lamprey are an anadromous native Maine fish species that matures in the Atlantic ocean and returns to Maine’s freshwater, coastal rivers and streams, to spawn in late spring. Most sea lampreys migrate to the Atlantic Ocean and feed on marine fishes. Adult lampreys that don’t migrate to the ocean prey upon freshwater fish species. Mature lampreys that are returning to spawn have stopped feeding, their digestive system has shutdown, and they die after spawning. Juvenile lampreys remain in fresh water for several years before migrating to the ocean to continue their lifecycle. As juveniles, sea lampreys are not parasitic. They filter plankton from the water column and live in burrows in silty or gravelly stream beds.

Will the scars and wounds on fish heal over?

Fish suffer wounds from predator bites, bird talons, hooking injuries, boat propeller strikes,and bacterialand parasite infections.Sometimes, fish even injure each other duringaggressive pre-spawning territorial battles and competition for prime feeding or refuge habitats. All thesewounds must heal in order for the fish to live a healthyand successfully reproductive life. Fish have excellent regenerative abilities to repair wounds and defend against infection. Fishhave a specialized scar-forming cell called a "melanocyte" thatrepairsa wound with a thickblack scar. Melanocytes are cellscapable of both fighting infection and repairing the wound simultaneously.

What is the difference between the duties of a Game Warden and the duties of a Fisheries Biologist?

Game Wardens are responsible for enforcing the state’s hunting, fishing, ATV, snowmobile and boating laws, plus carrying out search & rescue efforts for people lost in the woods or waters. Fisheries Biologists are responsible for evaluating and managing the freshwater fisheries in the state’s waters. Biologists collect data on fish populations (wild and stocked), assess fisheries habitat, and document angler use in order to formulate fishing regulations, develop statewide and regional fisheries management strategies, and determine waters to be stocked, including species and stocking rate.

Can stocked trout or salmon reproduce?

Yes they can. Stocked trout and salmon will search for spawning habitat during the appropriate time of year, and if there is spawning habitat present they attempt to utilize it. As most waters that DIFW stocks with trout and salmon contain little or no spawning habitat; these stocked fish do not usually successfully produce many young.

If a fish can’t spawn why would DIFW stock that species?

To provide recreational fishing opportunities that are important to Maine’s recreation based economy.

More specifically, fish are stocked to support the following types of management programs:

Maintenance stocking is a program of routine, continuous stocking intended to supplement or substitute for natural reproduction. Hatchery fish are released, survive, and grow to an acceptable size and then they are caught by anglers. Maintenance stocking is done where there is suitable habitat to grow fish, but there is limited or no habitat for natural reproduction. This is the category that accounts for most stockings performed by DIFW.

Legal-size trout stocking involves the release of legal-size trout in waters where they are expected to be caught within a short time period (i.e. weeks or months). This type of stocking provides a short-term fishery and in recent years DIFW has increased this type of stocking based upon requests from anglers. These stockings occur in waters that are in close proximity to populated areas and have good public access for anglers to use when fishing. Waters with this type of stocking program are promoted by DIFW and often are used by families and younger anglers.

Introductory stocking is done to establish a species not originally present or to reintroduce a species after it has been previously lost from a waterbody. Once the species is stocked it will then be able to maintain itself through natural reproduction. Stocking is discontinued when the species has become established. This type of stocking is performed occasionally by DIFW.

Experimental stocking is used in special situations. It is sometimes difficult to predict the success of a proposed stocking program where complex biological interactions exist. In such cases, DIFW may undertake stocking on an experimental or tentative basis. Fish stocked on an experimental basis may be marked by fin clipping or tagging to allow analysis of the program, which may then be changed to a routine maintenance stocking, or it may be discontinued, depending upon the results. This type of stocking is performed on an “as needed basis” by DIFW.

Can I keep fishing after I have killed my limit?

Yes. Once you have killed your limit of a certain species you may continue to fish and practice catch and release fishing for that species for the rest of your day.

Can I use a treble hook on my baited ice fishing line?

Yes. When fishing with bait, anglers are restricted to the use of a single baited hook on a line. By definition a hook is defined as a “single fish hook constructed with 1, 2, or 3 points. [Exception – Anglers hook and line fishing for smelt may fish an unlimited number of baited hooks on their line.]

What does the Warden Service consider immediate supervision of lines when fishing?

Immediate supervision means that the angler must be able to see their own fishing lines/fishing poles/ice fishing traps and respond without delay to tend the line/lines/fish. This would not apply to supervision of night ice fishing requirements pertaining to cusk.

If I am fishing with live worms for fish other than bass but unintentionally catch a bass on worms between April 1st and June 30th do I need to release the bass?

Yes. It is illegal to catch or intentionally fish for black bass (smallmouth and largemouth bass) using live bait during the pre-spawn and spawning period from April 1st to June 30th.

Can I open-water fish off the edge of the ice under the new regulations?

No. An angler open water fishing can not take fish through a man-made hole in the ice, from the ice, or from any object supported by the ice.

Are artificial baits with natural scents considered artificial lures?

No. Artificial lures with natural scents are not considered artificial lures under DIFW’s current fishing rules. These types of lures can be used on waters with general law terminal tackle restrictions, but not on waters that have artificial lure only (ALO) regulations.

Can I throw my bait fish into the water when I’m done fishing?

No. It is illegal to release any live baitfish into a waterbody. DIFW suggests that anglers always dispose of unwanted baitfish on land or in the trash.

Why doesn’t DIFW stock walleye, northern pike and muskellunge?

Northern pike and Walleye – Northern pike and walleye are not native to Maine waters. Pike and walleye introductions create a significant change to the fish

population structure within a waterbody. They will prey upon any available forage species (smelt, shiners, fallfish, and perch) as well as game fish (bass, pickerel, and both wild and stocked trout and salmon species). This reduces the overall abundance of both forage and game fish, which has drastic impacts to anglers over time.

Muskellunge – Muskies are also not native to Maine waters. Due to their preference for cool-water habitat, muskies actively prey upon native minnow species and brook trout, and displace brook trout from slow-water habitats. Muskies have already negatively impacted several native brook trout populations in northern Maine.

Why is it bad to introduce a fish into a new body of water?

When a non-native or invasive species is illegally introduced into a waterbody the following impacts can occur:

  • Prey upon existing fish species in that waterbody.
  • Compete with existing fish species for food and habitat.
  • Spread to other waterbodies (upstream and downstream) that are connected to the original water. This expands the range of the new species and continues impacting other existing fish populations.
  • Increase the potential for fish diseases to be spread and for the introduction of new diseases from outside of Maine. Existing Maine regulations on the importation of live fish and health screening requirements for authorized transfers have prevented the spread of most fish diseases into Maine from neighboring states.
  • Once an introduced fish species becomes established in a waterbody the fish community is FOREVER CHANGED!

To learn more about the negative impacts of illegal fish introductions click on this link: http://www.maine.gov/ifw/fishing/index.htm and click on the “Don’t Dump Your Bait” icon.

Why it is bad to dump goldfish into a lake or pond?

Goldfish are not native to the State of Maine, meaning that they do not occur naturally in our waters. By dumping goldfish into a lake or pond you may be changing that ecosystem forever. Goldfish are very tough, resilient fish that could colonize a lake or pond and out-compete native fish species. Goldfish may also carry diseases and parasites that could endanger native species such as trout and salmon. For these reasons, goldfish are only legal to possess in an indoor aquarium. Outside goldfish ponds are illegal in the State of Maine. This applies to any outdoor pond; as small as an aquarium or landscaping pond to as large as a man-made trout pond. If you have goldfish in an outdoor pond or indoor goldfish that you no longer want, do not release them into the wild. You could find someone willing to give them an indoor home, or humanely dispose of them.

To learn more about the negative impacts of illegal fish introductions click on this link: http://www.maine.gov/ifw/fishing/index.htm and click on the “Don’t Dump Your Bait” icon.

Why can’t I fish on brooks, rivers and streams after September 30th?

Most rivers and streams with wild brook trout or salmon populations are closed to fishing after Sept 30th to protect valuable spawning fish. Brook trout typically begin spawning in early October and salmon spawn a few weeks later. These fish seek out flowing water and bury their eggs in the stream’s gravel.The fish are vulnerable and highly stressed before and after going through this rigorous exercise. Some trout can be confined in rivers or even small brooks for several months while preparing to spawn and they exhibit high rates of mortality soon after spawning. Angling over these fish could increase mortality of these fragile wild fish. Wading in streams can also crush trout and salmon eggs. There are many brooks, rivers, and streams open to extended fall fishing, but these waters are supported by hatchery fish rather than wild fish. In these waters, there is no need to protect spawning fish. Most of these waters are located in eastern, central, and southern Maine. There are a few selected locations in northern and western Maine open to year round fishing.

It is okay to feed the eagles by leaving the fish I catch for them to eat?

No. Do not intentionally feed bald eagles. Artificially feeding bald eagles can disrupt their essential behavioral patterns and put them at increased risk from power lines, collision with windows and cars, and other mortality factors. Some eagles in Maine have died as a result of hook ingestion or have been severely injured via entanglement with monofilament fishing line. Do not assume the birds will pick around gear to avoid such harm.

Eagles are savvy scavengers. They patrol wide areas and follow the lead of crows and ravens. Many ice fishermen have unintentionally fed eagles by turning their back while their catch is lying on the ice. They are accustomed to stealing fish being transported by ospreys, and are quite willing to take yours as well! Never leave a fish on the ice with hooks, line or any gear attached to it.

What is spring and fall turnover in a lake or pond?

Spring and fall turnover refers to the exchange or complete mixing of surface and bottom water in a lake or pond. Although we use the term spring and fall turnover, they only describe a portion of an entire annual cycle that is important for Maine anglers to understand if they want to improve their fishing success.Following is a brief description of the entire cycle and its significance to anglers:

Spring: Immediately after ice-out the water column is cold but quickly warms to the point where temperatures are uniform from top to bottom. When this occurs, the entire water column is readily mixed by wind and wave action, hence the term spring turnover Spring turnover is a popular fishing period, as coldwater fish like salmon and trout range widely throughout the lake because temperature and oxygen levels are suitable and do not restrict their movements. At this time salmon and trout species often occur in shallow water where they can be more easily targeted by anglers.

Summer: As summer progresses, the sun continually heats the surface of the water. In deeper lakes, this leads to dramatic temperature and density differences of water at the surface and at depth (colder water is more dense and thus heavier than warmer water), so these separate “layers” are no longer mixed by surface wind and waves. This period is often referred to as summer or thermal stratification. Moderate to deep Maine lakes typically develop into three distinct layers: the upper layer of warmer, well mixed water (epilimnion); a middle layer of water where water temperatures plummet rapidly with increasing depth (metalminion or thermocline); and the coldest bottom water, which becomes isolated from the upper layers for several month (hypolimnion). This isolation of the bottom layer is important because it receives no new oxygen from the surface. In many lakes and ponds oxygen levels are gradually depleted from this bottom layer. At this time of year, warmwater fish species such as bass and perch typically dominate anglers’ catches in the shallower, warmer surface waters. The upper layer becomes too warm for coldwater species like trout and salmon, and they will be located in the middle or bottom layers. However, on many lakes and ponds coldwater fish become excluded from even the bottom layer, which can lose enough oxygen to support trout and salmon. Thus, coldwater fish get sandwiched into the middle area, which is why you often hear other anglers talking about fishing the thermocline. An angler that knows how to locate and fish the thermocline effectively can become quite successful.

Fall: With the arrival of autumn comes cooler air temperatures, and eventually the surface water of the lake cools and becomes heavier. At a certain point, the thermal/density break between the layers weakens enough for the fall winds to remix the surface and bottom water completely – this is the fall turnover. The lake once again becomes uniform from top to bottom in terms of temperature and dissolved oxygen, so coldwater fish are able to range freely throughout the entire water column.

Coldwater fish again have access to the upper surface layer, warmwater species may start heading for deeper waters, but both types of fish can be a little more difficult to locate as they become less concentrated at this time of year.

Winter: Another thermal stratification occurs at this time, though far less pronounced. Water is most dense (heaviest) at 39.2oF but becomes lighter from this temperature down to the freezing point of 32°F, where water turns into ice and floats. Thus, the water is coldest just under the ice and gets progressively warmer (up to 39.2oF) towards the bottom.

This is a weak stratification, but remains all winter due to the ice cover. Warmwater fish like bass are often found near the bottom where the water is warmest.

Similar to summer, the ice cover prevents any new oxygen from entering the water and it gets depleted from the bottom water as the winter progresses. Have you ever ice fished later in the season near the bottom where you did well earlier in the season, and got no flags? Was your bait dead when you checked it? If so, the bottom had lost all its oxygen, and you’ll need to move your bait higher into the water column until you find oxygen again. In shallower ponds, we sometimes get winterkill - where most of the fish die -, because oxygen has been completely depleted.

Why do I have to kill my fish and not just keep them alive in a livewell or on a stringer over the side of the boat and pick out the ones I want when I’m finished fishing?

Maine fishing regulations require that an angler who takes a fish, other than baitfish or smelt, immediately release the fish alive into the waters from which it was taken, or immediately kill the fish and count it towards the daily bag limit. This regulation is in place to prevent the illegal movement and introduction of live fish to new waters and to minimize the practice of “high-grading”, whereby anglers release injured or wounded fish back to water in favor of larger, more desirable fish that are caught subsequently.

What is the white foam on the lake shores?

"Natural" foaming occurs when small aquatic organisms (such as algae and insects) die and decompose, releasing a variety of organic compounds. Organic compounds leached from soil also cause foam. The organic material weakens the water’s surface tension, allowing wind or currents to inject air and create “foam”. Foam is produced and may accumulate in quantities on windward shores, in coves, or in eddies. The natural foam has a somewhat earthy or fishy aroma, and it breaks down rather quickly.

Is the sale or use of felt sole waders prohibited in Maine?

Maine does not prohibit the sale or use of felt soled waders. However, anglers should remain aware that all fishing gear in contact with water has the potential to transport material between waters, including plants and animals.

Didymo (Didymosphenia geminate) is a major threat to Maine waters. Didymo is a single celled algae which covers river and stream bottoms, displacing native flora and fauna. These infestations result in reduced productivity in these systems. There are significant relationships between Didymo introduction and colonization and fishing access sites. http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wat/wq/studies/didymo-blooms.pdf

Prior to moving to a new water body all waders should be disinfected in a diluted bleach solution or other appropriate disinfectant. Soaking felt waders in a disinfectant is far more effective than spraying.

New Saltwater Registry Information

A new law was passed during this spring’s legislative session that made a number of changes to the Saltwater Registry.

There were no changes in regard to the fresh water fishing license and the Saltwater Registry. When a person buys a fresh water fishing license, they will be asked the question “Did you fish in tidal waters of the State of Maine last year?”. By answering this question (either yes or no) the person has fulfilled the Saltwater Registry requirements. All they need to do is keep their fresh water fishing license with them while fishing in saltwater to prove compliance.

A person who wishes to fish in saltwater who does not wish to purchase a fresh water fishing license must register on the Saltwater Registry. In the past, the person needed to do this through the Department of Marine Resources (DMR), either online or at DMR headquarters. The new law requires that the Saltwater Registry be available through IF&W as well.

Customers wishing to purchase the Saltwater Fishing Registry item, will be required to provide a phone number.

The new item 1871 Saltwater Fishing Registry will be the same for everyone (residents, non-residents, or aliens). The state fee is $0 and the agent fee is $2 for agents, $1 here at IF&W, and $1 online through Informe.

There are a number of people who are exempt from having to register.

  1. Persons under 16 years of age do not have to register.
  2. A person with a lifetime fresh water fishing license will need to register each year if they wish to fish in saltwater. They will now be able to purchase the new item 1871 Saltwater Fishing Registry through IF&W as well as through DMR as described above.