January 2, 2014
Long Lake Salmon Management
By Frank Frost, Regional Fisheries Biologist, Fish River Lakes Region
It’s no secret that Long Lake is the top salmon producing water in northern Maine. For decades this 6,000 acre lake, which sits at the top of Maine and forms the headwaters of the famed Fish River Lakes Chain, has been attracting anglers locally and from afar. Long Lake is well known for its large salmon and produces catches in excess of 6 pounds at a frequent clip. As early as the 1940s there are accounts of fish exceeding 10 pounds, and more recently several ice fishing world records have been set and then broken here. A recent ten-year period of exceptional salmon growth has drawn even more interest. Long Lake has become a destination for anglers from throughout Maine and New England seeking the opportunity to fish for trophy salmon.
Why does Long Lake produce such superb salmon fishing year after year? At a relatively large size compared to most Maine lakes, Long Lake is also very deep with a maximum depth of 163 feet and an average depth of 48 feet. The water is highly productive and maintains high oxygen levels in the hypolimnion (the deepest part of the lake, and the coldest during the summer months). Long’s watershed has abundant farmland with highly productive limestone soils. Combined with a large, deep, well oxygenated lake, these are conditions conducive for producing large fish.
The main forage fish for salmon is rainbow smelt, and they are absolutely dependent upon them for good growth. Long Lake has ideal conditions for smelt, with more than a dozen suitable brooks that flow into the lake that serve as spawning habitat each year during May. The smelt runs at Long are some of the most prolific in the state. Once the eggs hatch in 8-14 days the fry drift downstream to the lake where they enter that highly productive water. It is at this point, we believe, where Long Lake’s great salmon fishing is made or not – that critical point in the smelt life cycle when fry survival hinges on availability of an appropriate food source. We surmise that survival of smelt in Long Lake is unusually high shortly after hatching, and so large numbers of smelt populate the lake as young-of-the-year. Remarkably, the smelt population in Long Lake has been relatively stable when compared to other salmon lakes in Maine.
A period of superb salmon growth and stability in the sport fishery occurred in Long Lake during the 2000-2012 period. Long Lake is managed with the objective of producing “quality size” salmon, as defined by public working groups during the Department’s species planning process. Long is one of about two dozen “size quality” waters in the State. This most recent 13-year period illustrates Long’s potential to produce a fabulous and relatively stable “size quality” salmon fishery. Average size of three-year old salmon hovered around 18 inches (see figure); K-factor (a measure of fatness) exceeded 1.0 during most years; and the occurrence of “trophy” fish in the catch was up significantly. This period of unprecedented salmon fishing resulted from a combination of harvest restrictions (salmon harvest regulations changed in 1996), carefully considered salmon stocking rates, fishing pressure (generally less than about 6000 angler trips during the winter season), and good protections for spawning smelt.
What has caused a recent downward trend in the fishery? Since 2008, the average size of 3-year old salmon has been declining (see figure). The salmon measured during the 2013 winter ice fishing season were the smallest since 1997 (exceptions, 2003/2005) and the catch of older, larger fish was also down significantly. The incidence of wild salmon in the fishery is up sharply, and while typically that is a positive trend, it complicates our efforts to maintain the optimum number of salmon while still maintaining high growth rates. In response, biologists reduced stocking of salmon to its lowest level in decades in 2013 in an attempt to improve salmon growth and reduce predation on smelt. That optimum balance of forage in smelt numbers and number of salmon at large that we had during 2000-2012 has certainly shifted toward increasing numbers of salmon, and consequently, salmon growth and size-at-age has declined. While we are still meeting the objectives of “size quality” management in the sport fishery, we can clearly do better as evidenced by the recent past.
What’s the outlook? At a public informational meeting in September 2013, biologists made the following points based on our recent sampling:
- Salmon growth and size is expected to be significantly reduced over the next few years based on only moderate smelt spawning runs in 2011, 2012, and a very low run in 2013.
- Future salmon growth and size could also be influenced by increasing numbers of wild salmon. Future wild salmon production is unpredictable, and could greatly influence future supplemental stocking rates, and ultimately, size quality and angler catch rates.
- Maximum size of salmon and the number of large salmon in the fishery may decline in the near future, which could result in dissatisfaction by anglers similar to that observed in the mid to late-1990s.
Biologists have recommended the following in the interest of maintaining “size quality” management for Long Lake:
- Increase the smelt population prior to recommending salmon harvest regulation changes. Repealing the law that allows smelt dipping at Mud Brook should be the primary discussion point to achieve this.
- Continue to balance the salmon population with smelt numbers through stocking reductions, should smelt runs not improve.
- Continue to monitor the sport fishery, specifically salmon age and growth metrics, the abundance of wild salmon, the nature and extent of smelt runs, and anglers’ views on the quality of salmon fishing at Long Lake.
December 6, 2013
Penobscot Region Fisheries Report
By Nels Kramer, Regional Fisheries Biologist
In 1991, then Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Hatchery Superintendent Dave Locke requested that regional personnel trap brook trout from Nesowadnehunk (Sourdnahunk) Lake for use as an egg source in the hatchery. At that time Maine’s hatchery system was using a domestic strain of brook trout (Maine Hatchery Strain) that was exhibiting poor longevity and high egg mortality, and there was interest in exploring the use of a native strain from Maine.
That fall a total of 3,282 brook trout were trapnetted at Nesowadnehunk Lake from September 17th to November 6th. From these fish, a total of 15,093 eggs were produced for use in the hatchery system, and 8,337 brook trout were stocked in various lakes and ponds throughout Northern Maine the following year.
Eggs from Nesowadnehunk brook trout were taken and utilized in the hatchery system until 2000 when they were replaced with the Kennebago Strain, another native strain of brook trout from Western Maine. Each strain was evaluated for their performance in both the hatchery system and the wild in the ensuing years, and although both strains performed at a much higher level than the existing Maine Hatchery Strain available at the time, the Kennebago Strain was eventually adopted for use in the Maine stocking program.
From the Baxter State Park 2012 Management Plan revision-Work with IF&W fisheries management to explore and implement cooperative and joint efforts to restore the Nesowadnehunk hatchery strain for use in stocking Park ponds.
There has been a continued interest by Baxter State Park to utilize a more “local strain” of brook trout for use in the Park. Nesowadnehunk Lake is partially contained within the Park on the western border, and the outlet (Nesowadnehunk Stream) flows through the south end of the park and into the West Branch of the Penobscot River immediately below Nesowadnehunk Falls. Many of the famed and cherished Park waters drain directly into Nesowadnehunk Stream, including: Daicey Pond, Kidney Pond, Abol Pond, Grassy Pond, Rocky Pond, Little Rocky Pond, Windy Pitch Pond, Foss and Knowlton Pond, Katahdin Stream, Lost Pond, Jackson Pond etc.
On November 5th and November 13th, 2013, Maine fisheries and hatcheries personnel once again set trapnets at Nesowadnehunk Lake in hopes of acquiring enough eggs for a new stocking program at Baxter State Park. A total of 317 brook trout were handled in our trapnets, and 14,100 eggs were fertilized and taken to Enfield Hatchery for rearing. These eggs will be hatched out this winter and the fry will be raised until the fall of 2014, at which time 4,500 will be stocked out as fall fingerlings. An additional 1500 will be held in the hatchery over the winter to be stocked in 2015 as spring yearlings.
Ultimately we were able to strip enough females to get the required eggs, but unlike previous years when approximately ½ of all females captured were ripe to spawn the first week in November, this year only about 20% were ripe on the 7th of November. We held any “hard” females until the following week, and also reset both trapnets. By continuing our trapnet efforts into the 2nd week, a number of challenges developed, including the weather. The cove where our spawning operation and holding pound was located froze over with up to 2 inches of ice between the 7th and the 13th. Consequently, before we could even get to the holding pound or access the lake to set our nets, we had to do a bit of ice breaking! It’s always an adventure working outside in Maine!
April 4, 2013
Invasive fish threats in the St. John and Fish River watersheds – what’s next?
By Jeremiah Wood, Fisheries Biologist, Fish River Lakes Region
For more than a century the Fish River drainage in northern Maine has been prized for its world class coldwater sport fishery, but with the establishment and expansion of invasive fish species, the future of trout and salmon fishing here is in jeopardy. Muskellunge and smallmouth bass have found a new home in the nearby St. John River, causing its once-popular brook trout fishery to all but vanish. Near the St. John, the lower Fish River has been invaded by these fish, but their upstream movement into the Fish River chain of lakes has been held at bay by the lower Fish River Falls. Upstream from these falls, the traditional coldwater sport fisheries of the Fish River drainage remain some of the best in the state. The expansion of muskellunge and bass upstream of the Fish River Falls would change the area’s fisheries forever. Understanding and dealing with the expansion of invasive fish has become one of the Department’s greatest challenges in recent years, and this particular problem has no easy solution.
The 70 mile long Fish River finds its origins in the North Maine Woods west of the town of Portage in Aroostook County, flows southeast to Portage and then north through a scenic, forested valley to its confluence with the St. John River in the town of Fort Kent. The Fish is unique in that its watershed is dotted with large lakes connected by thoroughfares, most of which provide phenomenal coldwater fishing. The most popular lakes in the drainage include Fish River Lake, Portage Lake, St. Froid Lake, Eagle Lake, Long Lake, Cross Lake, and Square Lake. Historically, these were home to native populations of brook trout, togue and whitefish. The expansion of railroads and visiting anglers into the area spurred the introduction of landlocked salmon and rainbow smelt into the Fish River Chain around 1894. These fish became instantly popular and along with brook trout and togue, have been the staple of an economically and culturally important fishery for over 100 years.
Muskellunge have been in Maine longer than most people think. They were introduced in 1970 by the Quebec government into Lac Frontier, a headwater lake in the St. John River drainage. The fish quickly made their way into the headwaters of the St. John in Maine, reportedly caught by anglers beginning in 1973. The fish populated the river and became more widespread in the following decades, being caught as far as 400 miles from the source of introduction as early as 1988. More recently, muskies have become very abundant throughout the entire length of the St. John River, the St. Francis River (including Beau and Glazier Lakes), the Allagash River below Allagash Falls, and the Fish River below Fish River Falls.
Smallmouth bass have been a more recent introduction to the St. John. An unauthorized 1990’s stocking of bass in a private pond near the St. John in New Brunswick is probably the source. Bass have spread rapidly throughout the drainage, and are even present in the Fish River up to the base of the Fish River Falls.
Since the establishment of muskies and bass, limited biological sampling data and angler reports have indicated a drastic decline in the wild and native brook trout populations of the St. John River drainage. Muskies are voracious predators on fish of all sizes, and bass compete with and prey upon younger age classes of trout. Large trout once commonly caught throughout the main river are now extremely rare, leaving the brook trout population supported by outmigration from small coldwater tributaries. This spells potential disaster for trout and salmon in the Fish River drainage if these invasive species make it above the falls.
The Fish River Falls is located approximately 5 miles upriver from the town of Fort Kent. Though considered the linchpin holding the trout and salmon fisheries of the Fish River drainage intact, its effectiveness at stopping muskies and bass is questionable. An Army Corps of Engineers study in 2002 determined that the falls are not a complete barrier to the upstream movement of these fish, and that steps need to be taken to make the falls an effective barrier. More than ten years later, the funding and support necessary to achieve this have not materialized. To date, muskies and bass have not been confirmed in the Fish River above the falls, though many believe their colonization of the Fish River drainage is inevitable.
The presence of muskellunge and bass in northern Maine waters poses a huge challenge to the Department’s Fishery Division. The expansion of their populations and impacts to native fish must be documented and monitored with very limited resources. Stopping the spread of these species into new waters is a daunting task. Additionally, these fish are becoming very popular among a dedicated following of northern Maine anglers and visitors. Support from the public to manage these species is growing rapidly, and must be weighed with the impacts management might have on native fish. Like it or not, invasive species are changing the fisheries landscape of northern Maine and beyond, forcing us to take a closer look at how our overall management must adapt to preserve native fish while providing quality angling opportunities long into the future.
December 20, 2012
Cooperative effort to repair Cobb Hatchery water intake
Submitted by Dana DeGraaf, Fisheries Biologist
Weeks ago, work was scheduled at the Cobb Hatchery in Enfield to repair a leak at one of the water intake lines in front of the filter plant. To facilitate this work, volunteer divers from FPL (Bill Hanson and Kyle Murphy) and the MDIFW Fisheries Dive Team were utilized to cap the deep water intake line in order for repair work to be completed in the dry. Fisheries biologists from Region F and Cobb Hatchery personnel assisted with operation logistics and boat support. The nature of this work was extremely complex and dangerous. Water depth was 45’ with limited visibility and water temperatures hovered near freezing. Air temperatures were below freezing.
The deep water intake structure had to first be located by the divers. A trash screen was then removed from the 24” diameter water line and a 220-pound steel cap was lowered from a boat to divers. Air lift bags were utilized underwater to enable the divers to move the cap into position and then lower onto the open pipe. The divers then bolted the cap into place. The pipe was then drained for the repair work.
As the pipe began to fill, air temperatures declined to single digits for several nights. This presented a danger of pipe freezing and elimination of water flow to the hatchery, thereby impacting fish production dramatically. The call was made to remove the cap in order for the pipe to fill immediately and allow water to begin to flowing to the hatchery. The challenge was significant however - the pipe was not completely filled, so divers could not remove the cap themselves without also being sucked into the pipe. The MDIFW Fisheries, Hatcheries, and Engineering Divisions coordinated with the Department of Transportation (DOT) dive team to pull off the cap safely while under extreme pressure. The DOT utilized an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) equipped with video cameras and lights to evaluate the work area and check flows. Divers unbolted the cap, hooked tow lines to it and then surfaced. Once divers were aboard, the cap was pulled off with the DOT dive boat. Once the line was filled with water and any remaining air purged, the line was shut down again at the hatchery to eliminate flows. The ROV confirmed no flows, and the divers reinstalled the trash screen. This work allowed the hatchery to return to full operation.
Substantial coordination and teamwork allowed all repair and dive work to be completed on-time, safely, and successfully. From their experience working around hydropower facilities, Bill Hanson and Kyle Murphy of FPL provided critical expertise during the planning, safety coordination, and diving phases. Fisheries staff from the MDIFW Dive Team, Region B and Region F, Hatcheries, the Engineering Division, and the DOT dive team worked seamlessly on this project. The DOT dive team is responsible for bridge and dam inspections; despite their critical duties, they were on site in Enfield within 24 hours and brought a specialized ROV to complete the final stages of this work. This project is a perfect example of safe and effective teamwork and cross-agency coordination. With assistance from FPL and by utilizing all the State’s in-house resources, we were able to save our Department thousands of dollars by avoiding contracting the dive work out.
November 29, 2012
Regulating Harvest- Some Management Techniques and Their Effects -
Submitted by Dana DeGraaf, Coldwater Fisheries Biologist
In North America, fishing regulations were implemented well before the turn of the 20th century. For example, season closures for some marine fisheries were implemented as early as the 1600s and by the time of the American Revolution, numerous statutes were in place regulating fish harvest. Since the 1960s there has been a broad trend toward more restrictive harvest regulations including the reduction in the number of fish that can be harvested and the use of restrictive length limits. Additionally, water and species-specific regulations have become common throughout the United States. Whereas seasonal closures and creel limits were often the only regulations implemented at the turn of the 20th century, slot length limits and length-based creel limits are now used more widely to control harvest.
Fishing regulations are implemented for many reasons. In Maine, fishing regulations are implemented to improve fishing quality or to maintain population viability, to alter community dynamics, or to encourage the control of exotic species from certain waters. In addition, fishing regulations can be applied for public safety concerns, such as consumption advisories due to contaminants (e.g., lead, mercury, PCBs). Regulations may also be implemented for social reasons, such as accommodating the desires of individual user groups. Both social and biological data are used by our Fisheries Division when implementing or altering fishing regulations and policies. Suffice to say, developing, maintaining, and changing fishing regulations is no easy task! With any regulation, careful design and regular monitoring are essential in order to be effective.
If you’ve fished in Maine then you may recognize that state-wide there are a diversity of fishing regulations that all anglers must follow. Fishing regulations are as diverse as the people and the waters in Maine and are based on many factors including the water body, location, water quality, and species composition. Waters in Southern Maine are uniquely different in many regards than waters of Western and Northern Maine. In addition, user groups are vastly different throughout the state. Understanding the sociological aspects of a given fishery is a critical component when selecting regulations, as individual wants and needs often differ within a group using the same fishery. Below are some fisheries management techniques that we hope define and explain why certain regulations exist.
General Law: This regulation provides basic protection to stocked and wild fish. General law encourages early harvest where angler pressure is moderate to high which can maximize growth rate potential of individual fish not harvested in the fishery. This regulation can provide good catch rates and harvest opportunities
Small Bag Limits: Lower bag limits are intended to distribute the catch over a longer period of time and among more anglers. Low bag limits usually coincide with restrictive regulations such as high minimum length limits.
Slot Limits: These regulations are bound by the upper and lower length limits with the intent of directing harvest to specific parts of a fish population while protecting others. A slot limit may be used to “thin out” smaller fish but allow the remaining fish to grow faster and enable large fish to be caught and released or kept. The protected size slot protects fish and allows them to continue to grow and reach a larger size class. Anglers are important with this regulation! Without harvesting fish of a given size, the regulation does little for management of the resource.
Catch and Release: This regulation is intended to return fish to the water alive, thus giving them the chance to grow larger and be caught again. This regulation may be effective on waters where natural recruitment and population size is very low and growth rates are excellent, or on waters where there is a strict need for conservation (imperiled or endangered species, for instance).
Fly Fishing or Artificial Lures Only: These “terminal tackle” regulations are applied to reduce mortalities in released fish and are often an effective and necessary companion to restrictive bag and length limits.
No Live Fish as Bait: This regulation is typically applied to reduce the risk of establishing unwanted bait populations in landlocked salmon or brook trout waters, while still allowing the use of dead bait fish or artificial lures.
To learn more about why and how fishing regulations are used in your area, please contact your Regional Fisheries Biologist.
November 15, 2012
Progress at Big Reed Pond Continues - Frank Frost, Regional Fisheries Biologist
The Department continues to follow the progress of the Big Reed Pond restoration project that was aimed at restoring a population of rare Arctic charr and wild brook trout. These important fish populations declined precipitously after rainbow smelt were introduced in the late 1980s, and prompted the Department and a team of partners to begin a large-scale restoration effort in 2007. Our work at Big Reed was highlighted by the large and logistically challenging reclamation project carried out in October 2010. In the ensuing two years since reclamation, trout and charr have been reintroduced and we continue to monitor their growth and reproduction.
Artic Charr caught recently at Big Reed Pond.
There are only twelve populations of wild, native Arctic charr in the lower 48 States, all of which occur in Maine. These fish, also called blueback trout, are truly a unique Maine fishery resource. All of the populations that once existed in the Northeast U.S. and Eastern Canada are descendants of an ocean ancestor that colonized inland waters as glaciers retreated. Because of their inability to coexist with many other fishes, their range in the U.S. has shrunk considerably over the last century. As a result, the Department manages these fish as distinct populations worthy of individual protection and conservation. Without significant intervention at Big Reed Pond, this population would have surely been lost.
Brook Trout caught recently at Big Reed Pond.
Over the last three weeks biologists at the Ashland Regional Headquarters have maintained trapnets at Big Reed Pond to check on the fish released since the 2010 reclamation. These trapping efforts provide an enormous amount of information on the current population size, growth of individual fish, and natural spawning activity. To date, we have captured brook trout ranging 5-13 inches and several blueback trout that are approaching 15 inches and weighing more than a pound. Nearly all of the charr are sexually mature but we have not yet determined their exact spawning location. All fish are extremely healthy and growth is excellent, as we expect at reclaimed ponds. We are hopeful to document natural and successful spawning of both fish species over the next several years.
November 8, 2012
Penobscot Region Fishing Report - Nels Kramer, Regional Fisheries Biologist
While some dams are considered detrimental to fish populations, especially cold-water populations, some dams are recognized as being extremely valuable for creating and maintaining high quality fisheries habitat. Consider the dam on the outlet of Grand Lake Matagamon in T6R8 WELS, impounding both 1st and 2nd Lake Matagamon. Built to replace the timber crib structure constructed in the 1880’s, the present structure was built in 1941 and is 218.5 feet long and 30 feet high.
In October of 2000, the Matagamon Lake Association (MLA) was formed, comprised of camp owner, tribal, and resource agency representatives in response to the divesture of dams by the ownership of the East Branch Improvement Co., a consortium of utilities and paper companies that managed hydroelectric storage in the East Branch of the Penobscot system. The ownership of the Matagamon Dam was transferred on January 8, 2001 to the Matagamon Lake Association, Inc. for the expressed purpose of maintaining the structure for the benefit of fish, wildlife, recreational values and downstream safety.
In addition to the public members and camp owners that make up the Matagamon Lake Association, there are a number of other organizations that are contributing members of the MLA, including The Boy Scouts of America Matagamon High Adventure Base, Penobscot Indian Nation, and Matagamon Wilderness Camps. Biologists from Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, Penobscot Indian Nation, and the Department of Marine Resources sit on the Board of Directors in an advisory capacity. Donald Dudley, who operated Matagamon Dam for the East Branch Improvement Co. since 1978, is both President of the Association and primary operator of the dam.
The continued operation of Matagamon Dam is considered essential to the cold-water ecosystem, supporting a high quality sport fishery in the East Branch system that is of state and national significance. The regulated flows in the East Branch have been critical to the rehabilitation of wild landlocked salmon, wild brook trout and Sea-run Atlantic salmon, a federally protected endangered species. Without the ability to adjust and maintain adequate water flows throughout the summer, brook trout and salmon populations in the river would be negatively impacted, and stable, regulated water levels in the lake are also necessary for the establishment of a self-sustaining lake trout population.
Riverine ecosystems are affected by flood flows and droughts; these are major regulators of aquatic communities. The quantity and duration of stream flow determines the availability and quality of fish habitat. As flows decrease, there is a resultant decrease in available habitat for Atlantic salmon and brook trout and other water dependent species. Streams with stable flows are typically more productive than streams with wide fluctuations in discharges. Survival of juvenile salmonids is positively related to discharges, especially those flows occurring in the summer and winter. Flow regulation occurring at the Matagamon Dam enhances fish survival and production in the East Branch by reducing the magnitude and duration of low flows, and by maximizing the amount of habitat available for salmonid use.
October 31, 2012
Moosehead Lake weekly fishing report
Submitted by Tim Obrey, Regional Fisheries Biologist, Moosehead Lake Region
You have to make hay while the sun shines the old saying goes, and if you’re a fisheries biologist for IFW, the time to evaluate your coldwater fisheries programs is September and October. As the water temperatures fall, brook trout and salmon begin to cruise the shoreline making them fair game for our trapnets. Trapnetting is a sampling technique to capture a considerable number of fish to monitor age and growth. The fish are then returned to the lake unharmed.
IFW Specialist Steve Seeback with a much improved salmon from First Roach Pond
It has been another very busy fall for the Fisheries staff in the Moosehead Lake Region. In September, we started our fall trapnetting on a number of wild brook trout ponds in the Chamberlain Lake area. We were very impressed with the number of quality-sized brook trout we were able to sample. Clearly there is no shortage of big trout in the North Country.
In October we turned our focus to a number of salmon waters in the Greenville area including Maine’s largest water, Moosehead Lake. We are still netting as I write, but initial impressions are very good. The salmon at Moosehead Lake seem to have really turned the corner. In 2008, IFW liberalized the size and bag limits on lake trout on the big lake in an effort to reduce competition for food and improve growth for both salmon and lake trout. In the following 3 years, an estimated 80,000 lake trout were harvested by anglers. Since then, forage has improved in the lake and we have readjusted the regulations. We have documented good smelt runs in the spring for the past several years, and both salmon and lake trout growth rates have improved each year.
Seasonal assistant Henry Obrey with a nice little trout from Up North
We have documented similar results on First Roach Pond where salmon growth crashed after a very restrictive regulation was put in place. We liberalized the fishing regulations and slashed the stocking rate. This fall the salmon have shown a remarkable improvement.
These evaluations are very important for the management of the fisheries resources. Our work will determine whether a management program is working or needs refinement. It can result in stocking changes, regulation changes, and hopefully, a better fishing experience for the anglers.
October 25, 2012
Rangeley Region Fishing Report - Dave Howatt, Fishery Biologist
This time of year, Regional Biologists are kept busy sampling trout and salmon spawning runs. The information we gain from these surveys is important in developing management strategies for each fishery. With a limited staff and a compressed “work window” during which time fish are exhibiting spawning behavior, we can sample only a small number of waters each fall. This year in the Rangeley Lakes Region we seined the Kennebago River for landlocked salmon, completed a Scuba survey in the Rapid River, and conducted trapnetting surveys on four lakes.
Trapnets were set into Round Pond in Chase Stream Township in late September. The goal was to obtain a population estimate and begin evaluating a recent change in fishing regulations. The former regulation had a one-fish bag limit and an 18-inch minimum length limit on brook trout. Anglers, however, complained that the pond only now contained only small trout, so the regulation was changed in 2012 to allow a 5-fish bag limit of trout between 6 and 12 inches. The objective was to promote increased harvest of small brook trout, thereby reducing competition and, hopefully, improving conditions for good trout growth. The nets were fished 14 days, catching a total of 282 trout that ranged in size from 5¼ to 13 inches in length. We estimated a total population of about 600 brook trout in the pond, and we confirmed angler reports of poor size quality and large numbers of brook trout. We’ll repeat this survey in a few years to measure the new regulation’s effect on Round Pond’s wild trout fishery.
The Rapid River is one of the Region’s flowing-water gems. In recent years, this prized brook trout fishery has been threatened by smallmouth bass moving upstream from Lake Umbagog. The Department has been employing a number of strategies to minimize the effects of these invaders, and we closely monitor spawning brookies to ensure that the population stays healthy. One of the ways we do that is with a SCUBA evaluation of important spawning sites. While the water tends to be a little cool this time of year, the fish are a wonderful sight to behold. Our divers observed several year classes of healthy spawning brookies at our “index sites”.
Trap nets were fished near the outlet of Rangeley Lake mid-October to evaluate the lake’s salmon growth. We caught a total of 137 salmon and 20 brook trout. Only one cohort of mature hatchery salmon are currently present in the lake, so 72% of the salmon we handled were of wild origin. The largest salmon - a 5-year old female - was 25½ inches long and weighed 4 pounds, 9 ounces. Twenty percent of the salmon had scars from being previously hooked and released by anglers. The largest brook trout was 15½ inches and weighed 1 pound.
The Kennebago River was seined on October 18 to sample the spawning run of landlocked salmon from Mooselookmeguntic Lake. Two seine passes yielded 146 salmon and 13 brook trout. The salmon range from 8” to 20” and the largest brook trout was 15”. These data will be compared with previous years’ samples data to evaluate recent changes in regulations for the lake.
October 18, 2012
Region C Fishing Report
Gregory Burr, Regional Fisheries Biologist, Grand Lakes Region
Regional fisheries biologists in the Grand Lakes Region have made it a priority to help secure fair and equitable public access to lakes, ponds, brooks, streams and rivers in the Downeast area. Biologists state wide have understood for many years that with the human population increasing and the land around water being limited that the department needed to develop a program to purchase public access before all the land was bought and developed. Biologist have the been the point people for this effort because of their knowledge of the access locations on the waters in their regions and what lands might be able to be purchased for public access. Public access is also an integral part of the success of fishery management programs across the state because of the Dept. of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife policy that basically states that the department can not stock a water without the public having the same access advantage as the private landowners on that water. Therefore, equitable access for all is a crucial part of biologists being able to stock as many waters as possible to fulfill their mission to “maintain, enhance, create and conserve inland fisheries resources for the benefit of the public”.
Long Pond T10 SD launch
On remote ponds with walk-in access only, equitable access means maintaining the back-country nature by securing the land around the pond for walk-in access only. Ponds such as these if necessary can be stocked by backpack or by plane. Ponds located closer to public rights of ways but that still have a remote character may only allow carry-in access for small boats, canoes and kayaks. In these cases the department tries to secure abutting lands for carry-in access only. On medium sized and larger lakes and ponds that have a few camps with shallow gravel back-in boat launches, the department purchases land and develops similar gravel launches with small parking areas. On larger lakes that have numerous homes and camps with many highly develop private launches the department purchases larger parcels and develops planked back-in launches with larger parking areas.
Since the 1980’s regional fisheries biologists from the Jonesboro office have successfully helped broker 18 public access sites on lakes and ponds in Hancock and Washington Counties. At many of these sites biologists helped the department partner with towns, the Maine Dept. of Conservation and the US Fish & Wildlife Service to secure public access in perpetuity. The public access sites that have been purchased in the last 25 years are as follows: Cathance Lake – Cooper, Indian Lake – Whiting, Walker Pond – Sedgwick, Branch Lake – Ellsworth, Long Pond – T 10 SD, Spectacle Pond – Osborn, Mopang Lake – T 29 MD, Upper Lead Mtn. Pond – T 28 MD, Lower Lead Mtn. Pond – T 28 MD, Pleasant River Lake – Beddington, Heart Pond – Orland, Jacob-Buck Pond – Bucksport, Pennamaquan Lake – Charlotte, Beech Hill Pond – Otis, Craig Pond – Orland, Graham Lake – T 8 SD, Rocky Lake – Whiting and Pocomoonshine Lake in Princeton.
Branch Lake boat launch
Recently, one of the largest public access endeavors that regional fisheries biologists have ever pursued is being completed on Branch Lake in Ellsworth with a grand opening set to take place in April of 2013. This facility has taken over 14 years to come to fruition through the hard-work and planning of Maine Dept. of Conservation, the City of Ellsworth, IF&W regional fisheries biologists and planners, camp owners and many members of the public. Thanks to all these cooperators public access has been restored and the department is now is the process of rebuilding a once great stocked landlocked salmon fishery.
On tap for 2013 the department is planning to install a new boat launch on Bog Lake in Northfield and the Maine Dept. of Conservation is planning on installing a new boat launch on Spring River Lake in T 10 SD. Once both of these facilities are complete stocking of trout and salmon will commence and the department will once again work to build successful fisheries for the people of the state of Maine.
October 4, 2012
Auburn Lake Fish Kill - By Francis Brautigam
Fisheries staff from the Sebago Lake Region recently investigated a fish kill at Lake Auburn and collaborated with a variety of concerned stakeholders, including the Auburn Water and Sewer District. Lake Auburn not only provides the municipal water supply for the twin cities of Lewiston and Auburn, but also sustains one of the region’s most productive and well utilized fisheries for quality-size lake trout and salmon. Needless to say, regional fisheries staff remain deeply concerned by the unexpected and drastic reductions in deep water oxygen levels that precipitated the lake-wide kill of lake trout, a species with low tolerance of declining lake water quality.
Several dead lake trout from Lake Auburn
The prospect of a fish kill involving lake trout in such a deep, clean “oligotrophic” lake seems rather improbable, particularly considering the watershed stewardship role assumed by the District and the City, which focuses on controlling nutrient inputs to this public water supply. That said, there are certainly other examples in Maine where such dramatic changes in water quality have historically occurred, including waters like China and Cobbosseecontee Lakes, which historically also supported fisheries for lake trout. Prolific planktonic algae blooms and associated changes in lake water quality on both these lakes now preclude management for native coldwater fisheries like lake trout.
Floating lake trout in Lake Auburn
Water quality data collected by the District revealed rather dramatic declines in water quality on Lake Auburn over the last two years. Last year the loss of deep water oxygen occurred in late fall when cool inshore water temperatures and oxygen levels provided lake trout suitable refuge in shallower areas of the lake. However, this year oxygen levels plummeted earlier in the growing season due in part to an early ice out, a very wet spring (conducive to nutrient loading from surface runoff) including a unusually large precipitation event in late June, and a long, hot growing season. These conditions allowed algae populations to flourish and became very abundant in August. As the algae died and settled to the bottom, oxygen levels were depleted by decomposing microorganisms. Since oxygen levels are restored to deeper areas of the lake only twice a year - during spring ice out and fall turnover just before ice in - the next opportunity for restoring oxygen to the deeper areas of the lake will be in mid-November, when the lake “turns over” as a result of cooling denser surface water sinking to the bottom. While the warm upper regions of the water column remain well oxygenated from plant photosynthesis and wind, this zone does not mix with the deeper water once a temperature density gradient is established along the “thermocline”. Since lake trout require cold water (50° F) found in deep water, and deep areas are devoid of oxygen, the lake trout were initially observed surfacing in 70+ degree water and gasping for oxygen, only to succumb to temperature shock. Salmon and smelt have not yet been impacted to the same extent and may survive this year, but it is unlikely many lake trout will pull through. Fall sampling for salmon and lake trout after fall turnover is planned to more fully evaluate the magnitude of the fishery impacts.
At this time it is unknown if the recent water quality changes observed in 2011 and 2012 on Lake Auburn will persist in the future. If they do, these changes will significantly impact our ability to manage for desirable native lake trout and salmon fisheries.
September 13, 2012
Penobscot Region, By Nels Kramer, Regional Fisheries Biologist
Baxter State Park, founded by Maine Governor Percival Baxter in 1931, has long been a destination for hikers, photographers, nature lovers and anglers. Although the 209,501 acres making up Baxter State Park comprise only 6.5% of the total acreage of the Penobscot Fisheries Management Region (5,044 square miles), the fisheries resources of Baxter State Park are the most important within the region, certainly for brook trout aficionados.
Our objective is to manage Park waters in keeping with Governor Baxter’s intentions when he established the Park, which is to provide for a high quality experience to fish for native species in a natural setting, and that quality has priority over quantity. To that end, Inland Fisheries & Wildlife works closely with Baxter Park staff to ensure that all fisheries management activities conform to Governors Baxter’s intentions.
Of the 72 surveyed ponds within the Park boundaries, about 90% have brook trout populations at least seasonally, and some of the best brook trout fishing for wild trout in the state of Maine occurs in the Park. There are a total of 49 waters in the Region with principal fisheries for brook trout that have never been stocked or influenced by stocking. Over half (25) of all of these “A List Waters” are found in the Park, and 13 of the 28 “B List Waters” (those with principal fisheries for brook trout and not stocked in the last 25 years) are also found in the Park. Wild trout are the Holy Grail in this part of Maine, and they offer anglers a number of options, from small trout rising to every cast to matching the hatch for an opportunity to hook a trophy!
However, there are some ponds that because of a lack of trout spawning or nursery habitat, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stocks with wild strain brook trout to maintain trout populations. Many of these ponds are located close to much of the visitor activity in the southern end of the Park along the Permiter Road, including Rocky Pond, Round Pond, and Abol Pond. These ponds, because of their location, offer a chance for anglers to enjoy an angling experience without walking a long way into the interior of the park, and give younger anglers a chance to hone their skills as well.
We do, however, stock a number of ponds away from the road system that provide some of the best size-quality brook trout angling to be found within the Park, including Billfish Pond, Celia Pond, Frost Pond and Draper Pond, where brook trout that are measured in pounds is the norm.
Visitors to Baxter State Park that have an interest in fishing for brook trout have a myriad of opportunities to choose from, and they would do well to take the time explore this vast resource.
August 24, 2012
Unfortunate Update on Largemouth Bass in Grand Falls Flowage - Joe Overlock
Last fall department staff received an unconfirmed report of largemouth bass in Grand Falls Flowage in Washington County. Earlier this summer fisheries biologists at the Grand Lakes Regional Headquarters received a report that a local fishing guide had caught and killed a largemouth bass at the flowage. The next day another fish was caught and this specimen was confirmed by biologists to be an illegally introduced largemouth bass.
Fishing for Largemouth Bass
Following that confirmation, fisheries staff (with the help of Warden Service and the Passamaquoddy Tribe) began a thorough investigation of the area where the fish had been caught using the Department’s electrofishing boat. Two exhaustive days were spent sampling suitable largemouth habitat. No largemouth bass were found as a result of this effort and we concluded that the population was still quite small.
At that time, all the reported fish were approximately the same size and came from the same area. Although extremely unlikely, we were hopeful that only a small number of fish had been stocked and perhaps they could all be removed before they had a chance to reproduce. By special rule a “No Size or Bag Limit” regulation was enacted on largemouth bass in Grand Falls Flowage (as well as many connected waters.)
Over the last month the number of reported largemouth bass has increased and fish have now been confirmed in many other locations in the flowage. This week we made a disappointing confirmation. A concerned homeowner on the flowage reported that he had captured some juvenile largemouth bass. That night, at 6:30pm, we visited his home and confirmed his suspicions. He had captured 7 largemouth bass from 2-4 inches in length. The fish are the result of spawning that occurred earlier this year and last year. This dismal news is the nail in the coffin for any hope to completely remove the largemouth population.
Largemouth Bass from Grand Fall Flowage
This introduction will have a major impact on the vitally important smallmouth bass fishery in Grand Falls Flowage. This smallmouth bass population is already limited due to a lack of adult spawning habitat as well as young-of-the-year habitat.
Unfortunately, there is an abundance of largemouth bass habitat and this new species will compete severely with smallmouth bass for food and space.
Additionally, there is nothing to stop largemouth bass from colonizing other waters in the drainage. Smallmouth bass fishing is of major importance to the economy of Downeast Maine and is the predominant source of income for the guides in the area.
Since a full removal of largemouth bass from these waters is improbable, we must shift our objective to containment and suppression. We need the assistance of all anglers to kill any largemouth bass they encounter in Grand Falls Flowage, Lewy Lake, Long Lake (Princeton), Big Lake, and the St. Croix River from Vanceboro Dam down to tidewater.
This single act of selfishness by a person or persons will forever change the fisheries landscape of the St. Croix River drainage.
August 9, 2012
Sebago Lake Region – Lake & Pond Brown Trout Evaluations (submitted by Jim Pellerin, Region A, Fisheries Biologist)
Brown trout are an important coldwater species for Maine anglers, particularly in southern and central Maine where many waters are incapable of providing quality fisheries for native salmonids like brook trout and landlocked salmon. Browns are often utilized in lakes and ponds with more marginal conditions including: late summer water quality limitations, moderate to heavy competition from other fish species, and/or where smelt populations are inadequate for salmon. They may be stocked alone or in combination with other salmonids, but brown trout are expected to provide some holdover and the opportunity to catch a salmonid of good size quality.
Over the past decade, MDIFW has stocked 38 lakes and ponds in region A with approximately 2,844 fall yearling brown trout (12-14 inches) each year. Beginning in 2005, MDIFW’s Region A fisheries staff began a systematic evaluation of our brown trout lakes and ponds, particularly those where we lacked recent data and/or knowledge of the fishery. These evaluations were primarily focused on assessing the size quality objective specified in the statewide brown trout management plan, which states: experienced brown trout anglers should expect to catch brown trout averaging 15 inches and 1.5 pounds, and can expect to catch an 18-20 inch fish on a good fishing day.
Between 2005 and 2011, MDIFW regional staff sampled 30 of our 38 brown trout waters and handled a total of 433 browns. Across all sampled waters the mean length and weight were 16.5 inches and 1.9 pounds, respectively (Table 1). Twenty seven percent of the 433 browns sampled were 18 inches or larger in length! The remaining unsampled brown trout waters (8) had recent and adequate data for evaluation. Overall, 34 of the 38 waters (90%) evaluated met the average length criteria of 15 inches, and 32 waters (83%) met the trophy length criteria of 18 inches or larger. While our browns are performing well in terms of size quality, the abundance of brown trout in many waters appears to be relatively low. Specific causes for the low abundance of browns are unknown. One theory; poor genetics and fish health are resulting in high post-stocking mortality. The field performance of the “old” strain and two new strains of browns are currently being evaluated to investigate this issue.
Bottom-line, southern Maine is still producing some fantastic browns including a 13+ pounder recently caught from Hobbs Pond in Norway.
Go fishing, take a child, make some memories, and perhaps catch your own trophy!
August 1, 2012
First Impressions (submitted by Dana DeGraaf, Coldwater Fisheries Biologist)
As a new member of the Fisheries Division for a little over a month, I have been able to quickly interact with most of the regional biologists, research staff in Bangor, the administration in Augusta, and various members of the public. I have been impressed with the workload all our staff undertake, their commitment to responsibly collecting and analyzing scientific data, and how and why fishing regulations are developed and implemented. Fisheries biologists may work on fish passage and habitat enhancement projects, fish stocking programs, evaluating impacts of exotic species, reclaiming waters for native species, conducting scientific SCUBA diving surveys, and constantly reviewing and developing new techniques to better study and manage Maine’s aquatic resources. On any given day our biologists can be found responding to data requests from the public, giving presentations to school groups, collecting angler information, and working with other state and federal agencies and non-profit organizations on a myriad of important fisheries issues throughout the New England region. To put things into perspective, approximately 20 fisheries staff are responsible for Maine’s 6,000+ ponds and lakes and 32,000 miles of rivers and streams. They systematically collect data via truck, boat, plane, snowmobile, ATV, and on foot. They work in all weather conditions, on weekends, and through holidays. And they do this all for Maine’s citizens and anglers that visit our state from around the world.
I have equally been impressed with the level of interest and involvement the public has in the management of Maine’s fisheries resources. Many anglers are keenly aware of the department’s work; they review and analyze our extensive data sets, ask many questions and generally want to be involved in how the resources are managed. Anglers are actively involved in public meetings that are held throughout the state, hold discussions informally via blogs, and are quick to interact one-on-one with department biologists in the field. Many fishermen in Maine know who the regional fisheries biologists are, what work is being done on what water body, and may often volunteer their time submitting angler log books or conducting remote pond surveys. Many anglers in Maine do this because they care about the resource and want to preserve fishing opportunities for years to come.
A fishery may be defined as a social system that includes fish, harvesters, and the entire support industry; the long-term success of the fishery relies upon the sustainability of the fishery resources. It is important for managers to identify stakeholders who will be affected by possible management changes intended to modify the fishery. Fisheries biologists and managers must be prepared to weigh conflicting viewpoints in their decision making processes because the number and diversity of economic factors in a fisheries resource often receives the most consideration. Our department is very aware of public desires when it comes to managing fisheries resources, and our doors are always open to the public. In addition to many of our public outreach approaches, our department is currently managing several working groups for brook trout and landlocked salmon, among other species. The public members on these groups represent anglers, commercial baitfish dealers, guides, lodge owners, non-governmental organizations, and the general public. The working group meetings are held regularly (usually monthly) and are open to the general public for observation. After the meetings, non-working group members are welcome to ask questions of the working groups and our fisheries staff. Dates for upcoming working group meetings are found on our website: www.maine.gov/ifw. It’s another way our department can connect with you!
July 25, 2012
Fishway on Lower Aroostook River Tributary due for Reconstruction this Summer
It is no secret the Aroostook River has become one of the premier wild brook trout rivers in Maine. When conservative fishery regulations were placed on the lowermost section in the early 1990s, the angling public in the County was hesitant to support the changes. After nearly 20 years though, brook trout fishing on the stretch of river in Caribou and Fort Fairfield is terrific, supporting a popular fishery throughout the summer.
Derrick Cote (left) and Dave Basley sample brook trout on the lower Aroostook River in 2005.
At the heart of this special regulation section is the Little Madawaska River, a large tributary joining the Aroostook in Caribou and extending to the north, originating in the towns of Perham and Westmanland. Approximately 10 miles upstream from the Aroostook is a 50 year-old dam that creates a small reservoir providing a water supply to the Loring Development Authority (LDA), site of the former Loring Air Force base. The base closed in 1994 but the need for water remained to support the various redevelopment efforts there.
The LDA dam has a fishway to allow fish to pass upstream. As river temperatures warm in mid summer, trout seek thermal refuge habitat throughout the entire Little Madawaska watershed; significant habitat for all stages of brook trout exist here, in particular spawning and juvenile habitat in many cold tributaries. Since the late 1990s, however, the fishway has had serious maintenance issues that have worsened over time. In recent years brook trout have been observed nosing against the base of the dam, searching for access upstream. Late in 2011 the LDA secured a grant to upgrade their water treatment facility and reconstruct the fishway with state-of-the-art engineering. The upgrade will provide more efficient fish passage at all river flows, and has provisions to allow MDIF&W to trap and sample fishes. When the improvements are completed this September, the entire Little Madawaska River watershed will once again be providing great habitat in support of the lower Aroostook River sport fishery.
Regional Fishery Biologist
Fish River Lakes Region