It is late February and we are finally seeing the results from data collected over the 2007 field season. Data is collected in a very organized fashion and always with a defined purpose. Some of our data collection is for routine monitoring of established and/or popular fisheries, some is collected as part of state wide research projects, some for the evaluation of experimental programs, and some is a direct result of public comment, report, or input.
All data collected are typically entered (by me) into various databases at some point in the fall or early winter. Once our winter fieldwork has calmed down a bit, we find ourselves with a small window of opportunity with which to analyze the data from the prior spring/summer/fall field season. The results of these analyses are summarized in short reports by water, which help us focus on a management strategies as a team. We refer to these 1- to 2-page reports as "lake and stream investigation summary reports"¯ These reports not only provide a basis for the management team to assess the need for additional data collection and changes in regulations or stocking, the reports also provide clear documentation in the file regarding management history and past efforts. With over 300 lakes and ponds and thousands of miles of rivers and streams to manage, a little reminder can come in very handy at times!
These investigation summary reports begin with a short summary of the purpose of the data collection, the regulation in place on the water, and the stocking history of the water. The next portion of the report is dedicated to a summary of our sampling methods and the results of our sampling. This section often contains a table or two summarizing the data collected in the field, as well as a description of the fish habitat present. Also presented, if appropriate and available, is a table containing historical data for comparison to the newly collected data. Historical data is handy for observing trends over time on waters with several years' worth of consecutive sampling.
Following the results section comes the conclusions portion of the report in which a concise analysis of the results is presented. This section includes a written summary of data patterns, likely causes for those patterns, consequences for management, and relevant notes. The last portion of the report focuses on recommendations based on the analyzed data, historical patterns associated with the water, and potential benefits to anglers. These recommendations can include regulation changes, stocking changes, suggestions for future fieldwork, or even a tentative schedule for a follow up visit after proposed changes have been implemented. These fishery investigation reports are just one more tool utilized by Region A fishery biologists to keep us efficient and organized.
On a different note, angler reports indicate that even as we approach the end of February, fishing for trout and salmon continue to hold up. A recent chat with Maine Guide Fern Bossy indicates that brood salmon still were being caught on Norway Lake in Norway as recently as last week. He also noted that some folks are catching rainbow trout in Norway Lake as big as 16-17 inches. We just started a rainbow trout stocking program this past fall.
Warmer weather is on its way and good hardwater fishing for warmwater fish is expected for the month of March. March is a great time to get the whole family out for a day of fun and fast action. Bass, perch, pickerel and crappie are all more vulnerable as the weather warms, and I am looking forward to a morning of fun on my favorite pickerel hole.
The two-day Sebago Derby experienced some of the most comfortable weather conditions that I can recall, although poor ice conditions in the Big Bay tended to concentrate most of the fishing activity in Jordan Bay and the "Station."¯ Francis Brautigam visited the weigh station on Saturday, where there was some indication that the number of derby participants might be up from previous years. Near the end of the day on Saturday, togue in the 6 and 7-pound size range were in contention for the top prizes. At the time of this report, I was unable to confirm the results of the weekend derby.
-Brian Lewis, Fisheries Specialist, Sebago Region
Region B - Central Maine
Any cusk anglers out there? I've received a number of inquiries lately regarding the fish and it seems like there is a growing interest in fishing for them. Recent regulation changes have greatly increased the number of waters open to night fishing. Since the best time to fish for cusk is after dark, they present another terrific angling opportunity.
The cusk or burbot is the only member of the cod family found in fresh water. It is an elongate fish with two distinct dorsal (upper) fins. The first dorsal is rather short; behind it is a second fin that extends almost to the rounded tail. On the underside of the body is a long anal fin. All of the fins are soft-rayed, meaning no spines are present. They possess a broad head for such a long body, and have an equally large mouth. Under the mouth is a single barbell or whisker. They vary in color from a dark yellow to almost black, depending on the color of the water in their home lake or pond. An average-sized cusk angled from local waters is around 15 inches in length and about a pound in weight. The state record cusk is 18 pounds, 8 ounces, caught out of Eagle Lake up in the county.
From the description above, it is obvious that the cusk is no beauty, at least in comparison to a trout or salmon. It does however, have one greatly redeeming value. The meat of a cusk is white and flaky, making it delicious table fare. It reminds one of a mild flavored cod or flounder.
Some waters in the Region that are known to have good cusk fishing are Sand and Woodbury ponds in the Tacoma Lakes, Flying Pond in Vienna, Echo Lake in Fayette (open January and February), Parker Pond in Mt. Vernon (open January only), Brettun's Pond in Livermore, Big and Little Indian ponds in St. Albans, Great Moose Pond in Hartland and Minnehonk Lake in Mt. Vernon.
As noted above, cusk fishing is most productive at night. This is when the cusk actively forage and are most likely to take bait. It's best to fish with live or dead bait or a piece of worm about six inches to a foot off the bottom. In my past cusk fishing endeavors, I always fished deep water since that is what I learned from my elders. I was under the impression that I did OK as far as angling success. Recently though, I was out fishing with a young man who lives and breathes everything outdoors. While I fixed my usual deep water sets, he set his lines in two feet of water, again less than a foot off the bottom. While I caught one cusk that evening, he caught four. So, the best bet is "angler's choice"¯ for depths -- fish close to the bottom at a variety of depths.
There is no bag limit on the number of cusk an angler can possess. Under general law, the person who set them must visit all lines set for cusk once an hour.
- Robert Van-Riper, Regional Fisheries Biologist, Sidney
Region C - Downeast
Ice conditions on many Downeast lakes and ponds are providing great traveling for anglers. In most locations ice depth ranges from 14-18 inches with a few inches of snow on top. We encourage anglers to pay attention to conditions before venturing out since ice can be weakened by a rain event followed by above average temperatures. Use caution around inlets and outlets, rocks and shoals, and near islands and saddle areas. The current weather forecast, however, looks good for the upcoming week. Depending on how much snow falls in the next few weeks, anglers may be able to travel by ATV or snow sled. If you do end up on the lakes following a rain event, take care to avoid pockets of slush on the ice, since a mired machine is a sure way to ruin your day.
Action for lake trout on many Downeast waters increases as we enter the month of March. Fishing for this species can be a great way to introduce someone to the sport. I was able to experience this first hand over the weekend with two anglers who are both fairly new to ice fishing. My 4-year-old niece was extremely excited to help her father land her very first togue. It also didn't take her long to learn how to break the ice from the holes and check the bait. It was a lot of fun to see the interest and enthusiasm she had for fishing. The second angler, who has only been ice fishing for a few years, was my wife. After losing her first togue at the hole, she was determined to land the next fish she had on her line. Her focus and determination paid off as she was successful at catching her very first togue without any coaching at all (she also was quite proud of the fact that all I caught that day was a yellow perch!) Even though I didn't land any togue that day, it was truly worthwhile to see my wife and niece get excited about a sport that we can all enjoy together.
For good lake trout action in the Downeast region I suggest trying your luck at the following waters that have special regulations to help reduce an abundance of lake trout: Beech Hill Pond in Otis, Jordan Pond in Mt. Desert, Phillips Lake in Dedham, Toddy Pond in Surry, and Tunk Lake in T10 SD.
Other waters in the region that provide quality lake trout fishing and a good potential for larger fish are Eagle Lake in Bar Harbor, Green Lake in Dedham, West Grand Lake in Grand Lake Stream, Musquash Lake (West) in Talmadge, and Pocumcus Lake in T06 ND
Be sure to check your current ice fishing law book for the regulations that are in effect on these waters.
Plenty of ice fishing opportunities are still out there waiting for anglers. Get out and enjoy them with someone new to the sport. Be safe!
- Joe Overlock, Fisheries Biologist Specialist, Jonesboro
Region D - Western Mountains - Photos from the field!
With the "new and improved"¯ Embden Rearing Station on line and up to speed, we've been able to stock a lot more large brook trout for anglers to catch. We've stocked both spring yearlings and fall yearlings in many of our waters -- these fish range from 10-14 inches in length when stocked. In the lakes stocked with fall yearlings, we expected ice fishermen to be yarding them out right and left right after opening day, but they've actually proved a bit more difficult to catch. We see this as a good thing, because rather than having fantastic fishing for a week or so followed by slow action the rest of the winter, fishermen are continuing to catch these nice brookies throughout the season. Our own Dave Howatt fished at Crowell Pond last weekend and caught several of the 800 brook trout we stocked last fall, even though he was really fishing for white perch. This bodes well for the upcoming Cape Cod Hill PTO fishing derby to be held at Crowell Pond on March 8. Prizes include $100 for the largest trout, trophies, ice fishing traps, a pack basket, T-shirts, gloves, and pizzas. For tickets call DeAnna Meeks at 778-9658 or the Cape Cod Hill School, 778-3031.
There are a number of other upcoming fishing derbies to be held before the end of the ice fishing season:
* The American Cancer Society Relay For Life is holding a derby at Ellis Pond, Roxbury, also on March 8. Tickets are available at the Ellis Pond Variety.
* And -- this is a biggie -- the Upper Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce will be holding its annual Wyman Lake derby March 7-9, with $1,150 in prizes.
Travelling conditions on the ice are good. The slush that formed earlier has frozen solid, forming a solid base for snowmobiling. As we begin to feel some real warmth in the sun in March, however, be aware that some areas -- such as near rocky points and areas near moving water, will begin opening up, so be careful.
- Forrest Bonney, Regional Fisheries Biologist, Rangeley Region
Region E - Moosehead Region - Photos from the field!
This past weekend the Moosehead Lake Region fisheries staff was out and about collecting creel census data. Traveling conditions were good and we were able to get excellent coverage on the lake extending from Greenville up to Rockwood and even northward to Seboomook and Northeast Carry. Many parties were encountered and most were having great success at landing our abundant supply of small lake trout. We were able to collect data from nearly 180 of these fish over the course of two days. We still are encouraging anglers to keep the togue under 18 inches.
We've received reports that folks are having success on some of our fall yearling stocked brook trout waters. Sawyer Pond in Greenville and Branns Mills Pond in Dover-Foxcroft have given up a few of these 12- to 14-inch trout. A few other waters in the Greenville area that received these fall yearling trout include: Fitzgerald Pond (Mountain View), Prong Pond, as well as Manhanock and Harlow ponds in Parkman.
On Saturday the word was out that a large lake trout had been caught on Moosehead. Although our staff did not get the opportunity to see this fish on the ice, reliable sources inform us that it was 38 inches long and weighed in at just over 16 pounds. We did observe a few brook trout and landlocked salmon on the ice this weekend.
With this past weekend coming to a close so did the end of school vacation. Many families had spent a portion of the in the Greenville area enjoying the outdoors snowmobiling, skiing, or fishing. In my travels around the lake I encountered several parties, which were made up of anglers ranging from four to 16 years old. The nice weather combined with hungry togue made it an enjoyable time for most of these young anglers this weekend. It's always great to see these youngsters on the ice. The questions they ask are sometimes the most challenging to answer. How do you respond when a 5- year-old asks, "Why are you saving the guts from my fish?"¯ It can be difficult to explain to them that we look at the stomachs to see what the fish are eating and how much they have eaten. Most of the time I get some strange looks and often times the response of "that's gross!"¯
- Jeff Bagley Assistant Regional Fisheries Biologist, Greenville
Region F - Penobscot Valley Region
What a great weekend for ice fishing! Surprisingly, though, staff conducting creel census work around Region F observed lower than expected number of anglers. Perhaps everyone flocked to one of the numerous derbies held around the state in hopes of big prizes offered for big fish. We did measure several 4-pound lake trout and a 3.5-pound salmon at Schoodic Lake, along with some nice splake and salmon captured at West Seboeis. One party on Schoodic had fished Upper Jo Mary Lake in the Katahdin Iron Works region during the past week and reported catching several 14-inch brook trout and a 3-pound salmon. They reported lots of action and released several salmon as well.
Eric Ham, our contract winter census clerk, checked several nice catches of fish from Matagamon, Webster and Scraggly over the weekend. The anglers on Matagamon were catching lake trout, salmon and brook trout. Webster continues to give up some nice trout in the 1- to 2-pound range. Very few anglers were seen at Scraggly over the weekend, but those that were there had good luck catching salmon.
The East Grand Snowmobile Club held its ice fishing derby this past weekend, which included East Grand, Deering, and Brackett lakes. The largest salmon was 20 inches long and weighed 2 pounds, 13 ounces. The second place salmon had the same weight but was an inch shorter, and the third place salmon was 2 pounds, 12 ounces. The top three lake trout weighed 8 pounds, 9 ounces; 8 pounds, 5 ounces; and 7 pounds, 10 ounces. The first prize brook trout weighed 2 pound, 4 ounces with second place going to a 1 pound, 6 ounce fish.
As the days get longer and the temperature gets warmer we are all looking forward to spring. Some of the best ice fishing weather is yet to come though. On several of our warm water lakes this time of year the white perch become very active and can provide anglers with some fast fishing. If interested in taking part in this great family fishing experience here are a few water bodies to try in Region F, Pushaw, Boyd, Endless, Mattawamkeag, Baskahegan, Nicatous and Saponac lakes.
Get out and enjoy the great weather and the great Maine outdoors.
- Brian Campbell, Fisheries Biologist Specialist, Bangor
Region G - Aroostook County - Photos from the field!
Northern Maine fishery biologists currently are surveying seven waters open to ice fishing. We have seen a definite shift in fishing pressure from the popular, early-season waters -- Long and Eagle lakes -- to Square and Madawaska lakes that are more difficult to access (Square) and open at a later date in the season (Madawaska Lake opened Feb. 15th). These two waters have been very good late-season destinations. At Madawaska Lake the recently stocked fall yearling trout that are mostly 12-14 inches should provide some action. Although pressure has dropped considerably at Long Lake, this lake still is a good choice for anglers seeking a chance at a large fish.
Winter has set in with generally good ice conditions and snow for good traveling. Due to a recent thaw the extremely slushy conditions of the past couple of weeks no longer exists. As the days get longer and the sun gets stronger there should be some very pleasant and productive fishing days through the end of the ice fishing season.
- David Basley, Fisheries Biologist, Ashland