Rapid River/Pond in the River Fact Sheet

Background

  • The Rapid River is 3.2 miles long and forms the outlet of the Rangeley Lakes, which have long been noted for their outstanding brook trout and landlocked salmon fisheries. The Rapid River is famed for its large ( → 4 pound) brook trout, and for small but abundant landlocked salmon. Brook trout are native to the Rapid River, while salmon were introduced late in the 19th century. Fishing pressure is high on the Rapid River, despite difficult access for anglers.
  • Pond in the River, 512 acres in size, divides the Rapid River into two distinct segments. Pond in the River provides important habitat for certain life stages of Rapid River brook trout.
  • Both waters drain to 7,850-acre Umbagog Lake, which then forms the Androscoggin River in New Hampshire. A USFW National Wildlife Refuge encompasses a portion of Umbagog Lake.
  • The upper Androscoggin River drainage provides water storage and minimum flows to many downstream industrial and municipal interests. There are several large dams on the Rangeley Lakes, all currently owned and operated by FPL Energy Maine Hydro.
  • The Rapid River fishery supports two sporting camps: Lakewood Camps, located on Richardson Lake, and Forest Lodge, located near Lower Dam. The latter is situated in the former home of Louise Dickinson Rich, a Maine author who wrote several popular books about her life on the Rapid River.

The Problem

  • Smallmouth bass were illegally introduced into the New Hampshire portion of Umbagog Lake, probably during the mid-1980’s. They quickly established themselves there, and by the late 1990’s had expanded their range to other accessible waters in the drainage, including the Rapid River and Pond in the River. Both waters provide ideal habitat for smallmouth bass and, as expected, their numbers have increased dramatically.
  • Smallmouth bass are severe competitors and predators on brook trout. Wild brook trout production is expected to decline during the next several years. Landlocked salmon are far more tolerant of bass, and this naturalized population is expected to persist.
  • Bass are prevented from accessing (on their own) other large lakes in the Rangeley area because the dams are impassable to fish. However, we anticipate additional illegal stockings to occur from this new local “reservoir” of bass.

Department Actions Taken to Date

  • Intensive sport fishery surveys of the Rapid River have been ongoing since 1994.
  • Habitat surveys of the Rapid River and Pond in the River, including preliminary suitability studies for smallmouth bass, have been completed.
  • Growth and age structure characteristics have been described for all major predator fishes, including smallmouth bass (ongoing).
  • A “no size or bag limit” rule for bass was promulgated in 2000.
  • Radio telemetry studies to determine seasonal movements and habitat use of adult and juvenile brook trout were completed in 2002 and 2004. A similar study of landlocked salmon and smallmouth bass movements was completed in 2003.
  • A preliminary assessment of juvenile brook trout and landlocked salmon habitat use, and their interactions with young bass in nursery areas, was completed in 2004.
  • A comprehensive regulatory package was promulgated for the 2004 fishing season. The regulations are designed to provide maximum protection to trout during vulnerable periods (as determined by telemetry studies) and to reduce competition from landlocked salmon.
  • Surveys of existing natural “bass barriers” and the feasibility of establishing additional barriers to vulnerable trout waters were initiated in 2003. A new barrier was completed in 2007 at the outlet of C Pond, a tributary to Umbagog Lake. We are currently emphasizing protection of Umbagog Lake and Richardson Lake tributary ponds, but we anticipate extending this project to other waters further upstream (ongoing).
  • Studies conducted from 2005 to 2007 indicated that manipulating river flows from Middle Dam during the bass spawning season has the potential to limit bass numbers, thereby improving survival of brook trout. Department biologists are working closely with FPLE staff to implement a systematic program of carefully timed flow pulses to control bass numbers, within the constraints imposed by the other water users in the Androscoggin River drainage.
  • A long-term fishery monitoring plan has been developed for the Rapid River. The plan is designed to evaluate the new flow regime for bass control in a way that's commensurate with the Department’s staffing and funding capabilities. The monitoring plan will also allow us to document the long-term impacts of bass on resident fishes in the Rapid River.
  • A comprehensive review of the professional fisheries literature pertinent to this problem is ongoing, and personal contacts have been established with university researchers specializing in smallmouth bass and brook trout interactions.
  • A significant effort has been made to elicit support and assistance from a variety of local and statewide angler groups, including local sporting camp operators and anglers, the Rangeley Guides and Sportsman’s Association, and Trout Unlimited (ongoing).

Work Priorities (see footnotes for volunteer assistance)

  • Aggressively seek outside funding for bass barrier and reclamation projects for upstream waters .
  • Continue reviews of the scientific literature pertinent to this issue, and maintain contacts with other professionals involved in this work.
  • Continue sport fishery surveys and maintain current biological information for Rapid River salmonids .

Written by:

Dave Boucher
Fishery Biologist
Rangeley Lakes Region
April 10, 2008

For more information, please contact:

Dave Boucher, Regional Fishery Biologist
689 Farmington Road
Strong, Maine 04983-9419
Telephone: (207) 778-3322 Ext. 22
Email: dave.boucher@maine.gov