January 8, 2019 at 9:27 am
Branch Lake’s Coldwater Fisheries Have Come Roaring Back
By MDIFW Fisheries Biologist Greg Burr For years, Branch Lake in Ellsworth possessed a vibrant coldwater fishery, but in 2000, public access to the lake ended. Without fair and equitable public access, MDIFW was forced to cancel stocking landlocked salmon in the waterway. During its stocking hiatus between 2000 and 2010, the lake trout and landlocked salmon fisheries suffered. Without public access the stocking of landlocked salmon could not occur. The few salmon that were left in the lake from the last stocking in 1999 died out, leaving anglers without their famed landlocked salmon fishery that had been established in the early 1900’s. Since there was no public access, the fishing use dropped to all-time lows, allowing the lake trout population to soar to over-abundant levels. The high numbers of lake trout then devastated the rainbow smelt population, which is the main forage for sportfish in the lake. The lake trout then became small, skinny and stunted. These small trout were unattractive for the few remaining anglers to fish for. Once public access was restored fisheries biologists restocked rainbow smelt to increase the forage, restarted the landlocked salmon stocking program and worked with local anglers to increase the harvest of the over abundant lake trout. Eight years later the lake trout and salmon numbers are back in balance with the smelt forage and the fisheries are at optimum levels, and anglers are happy. Biologist’s netting in the last year have shown that salmon growth and condition are at an A+ grade with good numbers of salmon between 3 to 6 pounds. Anglers are also commonly reporting lake trout between 6 and 10 pounds. Biologists worked hard to bring public access back to Branch Lake and rebuild its premier salmon and lake trout fisheries. This is indeed a success story.
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