Brook Trout: A New Approach
By Scott Roy, Fisheries Biologist
The forests and mountains surrounding Moosehead Lake and the area ranging up through the Allagash Waterway are home to some of the best brook trout fisheries in Maine. But like so many of our once famous fisheries, these waters have suffered declines in fishing quality as access into the Maine woods increased. Improved access brought increased angling pressure, thus eliminating the oldest and largest of the brook trout. Ponds that had historically produced large brook trout for the few who got into them, produced small-to-medium size trout for the many who could now drive to within easy walking distance. Over the years, attempts to reverse the decline in trout fishing fell short of the desired results. In most cases, the moderate increases in length limits or decreases in bag limits that were supported at public hearings only temporarily held the line at the level of quality that existed when regulation changes were made. Few fisheries showed any significant recovery to previous levels of fishing quality. The piecemeal pond-by-pond approach to addressing the fishing quality problem was not working.
IFW decided to attack the trout quality problem statewide. The key to solving the problem is to return annual harvests to within levels that more closely approach historical harvests, permitting the escapement of older larger brook trout. In order to recreate the quality brook trout fisheries of the "good old days", we need regulations that control the catch and reduce the harvest to what was more typical of low use and more remote situations.
The fishery biologists in the Moosehead Lake Region are responsible for the management of the fisheries in 127 townships and Moosehead Lake. Within that area, about 400 Great Ponds support brook trout populations. All available information on these waters was reviewed and the ponds were categorized based on their potential to grow brook trout. They were then separated into classes. New class-specific rules were designed to replace a variety of trout pond special regulations with a few easily understood rules. One very important change is the restriction of terminal gear to Artificial Lures Only. Whenever large numbers of fish are handled and released, Artificial Lures Only assures a high level of survival. These were proposed and presented at public hearing throughout the state. The new rules became effective in 1994.
The Class I waters are those with the greatest potential to produce high quality brook trout fishing. Typically, these have been the most heavily fished trout ponds. On many it was common to have a season's allowable harvest be removed in a few weeks on either side of Memorial Day Weekend. It took the remainder of the year just to recover to early-spring levels. This scenario did not allow for any improvement in the fishing quality.
The new rules seem to be working on these waters. Seasonal use patterns have changed and harvests are being reduced. The results on some ponds have been immediate. In most cases, the spring "slaughter" that was often reported to us by the wardens and concerned anglers has been eliminated. These ponds now provide season-long fishing. The limit of only one trout over 14 inches has already allowed for the improved escapement of older fish. More and more of the populations no longer show the effects of being cropped off at the legal length limit.
Similar results are being reported by anglers from many of the Class II fisheries. In fact, a few Class II fisheries are doing better than expected and will probably be changed to Class I management.
Among the Region's 30 or so Special Regulations are included 5 Catch-and-Release and some 18 inch minimum length waters. These Special Regulations are the most restrictive in the Region. They are expected to have dramatic results on selected waters. To date, all fisheries being followed are showing improvement, either in population abundance or size quality. Reports from voluntary fishing records and box surveys show increasing catch rates and larger fish. Populations that had been "fished down" are recovering. Big trout are again being reported in some of these fisheries. Our follow up of the new trout pond regulations tells us that it is again possible to go to a Maine brook trout pond with the reasonable expectation of catching a 14-18 inch fish...or be surprised by a once-in-a lifetime whopper!
Brook Trout Pond Categories & New Regulations That Impact Trout Waters In The Moosehead Region
Special Regulations (already on the books) - about 30 ponds (±7.5 percent)
Class I (2 trout, 12" min., only 1 over 14", ALO1) - about 40 ponds (±10 percent)
Class II (2 trout, 10" min., only 1 over 12", ALO1) - about 115 ponds (±29 percent)
Class III (2 trout, 8" min., ALO or FFO2) - about 5 ponds (±1 percent)
General Law (5 trout, 6" min.) - about 210 ponds (±52.5 percent)
1Artificial Lures Only 2Fly Fishing Only