Old News Archive

Current Activities of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Research Group

March 13, 2007 - TRC

For over two months our colleagues in IFW’s regional offices have been providing excellent information and observations in their weekly fishing reports. This week they have a break, which gives staff here in the Fisheries Research Group located in Bangor an opportunity to write about some current activities that should be of interest to anglers in the state.

Stream Surveys and the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture
This year is shaping up to be a very exciting year for brook trout and stream research in general. IFW is embarking on a major effort in conjunction with the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture (EBTJV) and our partners to collect pertinent information on stream fisheries and habitats over the next two years. Many may recall that the EBTJV’s recent status assessment of brook trout populations from Maine to Georgia found that Maine is not only the state with the greatest extent of wild trout resources, but we are also one of the states in greatest need of updating our basic information regarding the status of our brookies. To put this in perspective, Maine lacks adequate information for about two thirds of the state’s area to accurately assess the condition of wild trout and their habitats for the EBTJV.

As an effort to address this need, we will begin a two-year statewide stream survey effort this year. Five seasonal crews will be brought on board this summer to conduct standardized surveys for brook trout and other fishes as well as to gather some basic fish habitat information at the surveyed sites. This is no small task, nor could it be possible without the generous contributions and assistance from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, Trout Unlimited’s Maine Chapters, and the Maine Chapter of the Izaak Walton League.

This effort will greatly enhance our knowledge regarding our fisheries for overall conservation and management purposes. We will collect much needed and more current information regarding the geographic distribution and population status of other stream fish species, such as non-native species and their potential effects on our wild trout. We currently have a pretty poor understanding of the level of occurrence of many unwelcome and known competitor species with trout in stream habitats. In addition, we hope to identify streams or areas that may provide opportunities for restricting the movements of competitor species into pristine trout habitats. Conversely, in areas and watersheds with minimal risks from non-native species, these surveys may identify streams or sites where improving conditions for natural trout movements may be beneficial by increasing overall available habitat or access to spawning areas.

Our efforts on this large-scale project will also provide many opportunities for interested groups or individuals to assist or get involved in a variety of ways. If you are interested in getting involved with conserving Maine’s wild brook trout, the EBTJV, or stream resources in general, I encourage you to contact me at IFW’s Bangor office (Merry Gallagher, Research Fishery Biologist, 941-4381 or Merry.Gallagher@Maine.gov).

Sea-run brook trout
Anadromous (sea run) brook trout are those that live in coastal drainages and spend part of their lives in marine or estuarine habitats. These populations occur in many of Maine's smaller coastal drainages. Anglers who know the location and timing of the runs have been very successful at fishing this resource and the fishery has become something of lore. However, the extent of the fishery appears to have declined and is currently somewhat limited. A detailed inventory of Maine’s salter populations has not been conducted, however historical records and recent angler reports allude to a spotty coastwide distribution.

Some general points regarding sea-run brook trout are:

o The genus Salvelinus is the least anadromous of all the salmonids. Brook trout frequently move downstream in the spring and return to fresh water in the summer; the marine or estuarine excursions are generally short in duration. They typically move into the marine habitat when they are juveniles and begin to lose their salt tolerance as they mature. Upon sexual maturity, they usually spawn (in freshwater) annually for two or three years.
o Their body shape and color changes when the trout enter brackish or full seawater, making them distinguishable from freshwater fish when they return to a freshwater environment. These distinguishing features disappear within a week or two of their return.
o Sea-run brook trout populations were once far more extensive than they are today. Their demise likely resulted from a combination of overfishing, habitat degradation, and the effects of predatory birds and mammals. Anadromous populations are least abundant at the southern extent of their historical range (Long Island, New York) and most abundant in the northern extent (Quebec and the Maritime provinces of Canada).

Not all brook trout in marine drainages are anadromous—only some will migrate. Some researchers have described categories of brook trout that migrate to sea: smolts (small trout that are migrating for the first time), kelts (larger trout that have previously spawned), and immature large trout (sexually immature trout that have previously migrated). Some individuals may spend several months to over a year in estuaries before returning to freshwater to spawn, but salter movements are not well understood.

A study initiated in 1956 by C. Ritzi of the Department of Inland Fish and Game at Whites Brook and Indian River in Washington County provides the earliest information on Maine's salter trout. Downstream migration occurred mainly from April through June. Upstream migration occurred from May to early August. Random movement occurred throughout the year. The most intensive migrations lasted 30 to 60 days, though short-term (1-5 day) migrations were common. Fresh-run trout had a silvery coloration that disappeared in freshwater after two weeks. Ages ranged from 0 to III+, though 1 and 2 year old fish were most common. The average length was 6.5 inches, and none was longer than 10 inches. Growth in the marine environment was rapid, averaging 1.4 inches for a long-term (26 to 106 day) migration. Mortality in marine habitat was estimated at 40%.

Maine is considered one of the last strongholds of natural brook trout populations in the United States, harboring numerous inland and coastal populations. However, the ecology of salter brook trout in Maine is poorly understood compared to their inland counterparts. Concerns about the current status of sea-run brookies also reflect concern for the overall health of small coastal ecosystems. Traditionally, scientific and public attention has primarily focused on anadromous fishes like Atlantic salmon, alewives, shad, and striped bass that tend to inhabit larger river systems and undergo extensive migrations at sea. In comparison, basic knowledge of smaller coastal streams and their ecological connections with local marine environments have not received much attention. Salter trout use these smaller streams and their estuaries to varying degrees, but are not well known.

This leaves a lot of questions regarding sea-run brook trout and their requirements for sustaining viable fisheries. We have begun to survey more small coastal streams in our routine survey and monitoring programs in an effort to document and characterize sea-run trout populations. We are identifying and prioritizing barriers to salter trout movements in order to reconnect fish access to estuaries where possible. In conjunction with multiple partners and Acadia National Park, we have begun a long term monitoring study of a coastal brook trout population in order to understand their basic biological needs and behavioral patterns. And, last year we initiated a coast wide effort at collecting some basic angler information regarding our coastal brook trout fisheries. We encourage anglers to assist by providing some basic fishing information as they try their luck at catching some salters this spring. If you’d like to assist in our efforts, please contact us in Bangor (941-4381 or Merry.Gallagher@maine.gov) and we’ll get you going!

-Merry Gallagher, Research Fishery Biologist – Streams Research Group
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Bangor, Maine

Current Activities of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Lake Research Group

For over two months our colleagues in IFW’s regional offices have been providing excellent information and observations in their weekly fishing reports. This week they have a break, which gives staff here in the Fisheries Research Group located in Bangor an opportunity to write about some current activities that should be of interest to anglers in the state.

Winter Creel Surveys
This winter the majority of our group’s creel survey work focused on five waterbodies in central Maine, Woodbury, Sand, Buker, Upper Narrows, and Lower Narrows Ponds. The ice fishing season opened with a whimper on January 1st with open water greeting anglers. Many lakes and ponds remained unsafe until the third week of January, far later than usual. Fishing success has been somewhat slow on these ponds this winter, although there are a few bright spots. Upper Narrows Pond produced nice brook trout fishing during the first two weeks of the season, as well as serving up several landlocked salmon in the 18 to 24 inch range. In addition to trout and salmon, anglers on Upper Narrows Pond are finding decent sized smallmouth and largemouth bass, and white perch. Lower Narrows Pond has produced lake trout (togue) over 20 inches to patient and persistent anglers. The fishing on Woodbury, Sand, and Buker Ponds has been slow, however Sand Pond has produced several brown trout over 18 inches – with stomachs full of smelt. Anglers seeking black crappie and white perch have also found some success on Buker Pond. These fish will typically bite readily and make fantastic table fare.

As we here in the Lake Research Group often develop studies with a statewide focus I took advantage of offers from our Greenville and Ashland Regions to assist with remote creel surveys this January and March. Ordinarily most of our creel surveys involve leaving our office mid-morning traveling to our assigned lake, conducting the survey, and then returning back to the office. Even if something goes wrong during a survey there is always a person, phone, or co-worker nearby. Remote creel surveys are an entirely different type of endeavor as my trip the beginning of March to Big Eagle Lake demonstrates. Arriving at the Ashland Office I joined fisheries biologists Frank Frost and Derrick Cote for four days at the Warden’s Cabin on Big Eagle Lake in the Allagash Waterway. Planning is everything in these trips, gas for the snowmobiles, firewood, food for duration of the trip, clothing and more clothing. Quickly the two trucks were packed with gear and up the Pinkham Road we went, arriving at the Zeigler parking area after 1.5 hours of driving. Several trips were made by snowmobile to carry gear and people to the cabin. Quickly we got settled in then headed out on snowmobile, Frank and I on Big Eagle to survey anglers and Derrick off to Churchill, Spider, Big Pleasant, and Clear Lakes to do the same. My trip around the lake that sun-filled first day was a fantastic one with views of Mt. Katahdin and the forested lakeshore. The next day was a stark contrast as the heavy snow and winds reduced visibility to less than 50 yards. Hitting some deep slush at the south end of the lake made me think of how far I was from the nearest person. Besides the daily creel surveys of the lakes there were meals to cook, dishes to clean, the woodstove to tend, trips to the spring for water, and plenty of snow to shovel. In the evenings we had plenty of time to tell stories, play cribbage, and tend cusk lines. As I learned from both remote creel survey trips it provides a great opportunity for fisheries staff to interact.

As you can see depending upon where you are in this state a creel survey can be a very different activity all together. Regardless of the survey location interacting with anglers provides biologists the opportunity to hear some good fishing stories, answer questions, and listen to angler opinions on a myriad of matters.

Evaluation of 6-12 inch slot limit for Brook Trout
Starting in 2006, twelve ponds and two rivers in the state had a new open water fishing regulation applied to them: S8 - All trout less than 6 inches and longer than 12 inches must be released alive at once. This new slot regulation is designed to allow harvest of smaller trout while protecting larger trout, with the goal of increasing the size quality of brook trout in a waterbody. The waters currently assigned this regulation tend to have good brook trout spawning habitat and large numbers of young brook trout entering the water’s population most years. By directing the harvest to the more numerous, younger trout in the population this allows trout greater than 12 inches to have less competition for available forage and likely grow to larger sizes. In order to evaluate the changes in a water’s brook trout population occurring due to this regulation IFW staff selected seven ponds where trout population size will be estimated and biometrics (length, weight, and age) recorded. Additionally creel survey boxes have been placed at these study waters to record angler trips and the number and size of trout caught. Unfortunately in 2006, few anglers fishing these study ponds have been filling out the survey cards. If you happen to come upon a creel survey box during a fishing trip we please ask that you fill out the card as it will assist us in our evaluation of regulations and monitoring of fish populations in the specific waterbody. This evaluation will be continuing for the next three years in Region D study waters and six years in Region E study waters as we anticipate it may take several years before changes in brook trout population structure occur in these study waters.

Catchable Trout Study
Throughout the state legal-sized brook trout are stocked in lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams in order to provide trout fishing opportunities for anglers. Many of these stockings are in waters that fall into one of two categories: 1) Waters that only provide seasonal habitat for brook trout; or 2) Waters that may provide year-round brook trout habitat but do not have available spawning habitat. The goal of these stockings is to provide anglers with the immediate ability to harvest legal-sized trout. Stocking is performed in the spring and fall, providing anglers the potential to harvest brook trout in both the open water and ice fishing seasons. Starting in the spring of 2007 fisheries biologists from the Lake Research Group, Gray Office, and Sidney Office will be initiating a study focusing on these stocked fisheries. Though the focus will be on lakes and ponds, some qualitative assessment of stream stockings will be performed (a more detailed assessment is likely to be initiated in one or two years) in the spring. Creel surveys will be conducted in the spring on 8-12 ponds and then in the winter on 10-12 lakes and ponds. We are focusing our efforts in southern and central Maine, as this type of stocking program is a major component of cold-water fisheries in these regions. With angler and staff reports of good and poor returns over the last couple of years are focus is trying to get a better understanding of what factors contribute to providing higher angler catches in these stocked fisheries. This should prove to be an interesting study, so expect to hear more about it in weekly fishing reports throughout 2007.

Kennebec River Round Whitefish
IFW fisheries biologists will be teaming with biologists from FPL Energy and Dr. Stephen Coghlan from the University of Maine this year to perform a study on round whitefish inhabiting the Kennebec River. In recent years lake whitefish management and research activities have been undertaken by IFW and UMO. The round whitefish though has received much less attention, as anglers do not often directly target them. FPL Energy has gathered some information about the round whitefish that inhabit the Kennebec River below the Wyman Dam in Bingham downstream to the Williams Dam in Solon from fisheries surveys conducted in the early 2000’s as part of license compliance activities for the Wyman Hydroelectric Project. Additional data was collected in the summer of 2006 on round whitefish in this section of river by IFW biologists while sampling with boat electrofishing gear. To date there has been little biological data collected on this population and basic information on population biometrics and habitat use is very limited.

The study team will be sampling for round whitefish through the use of boat electrofishing surveys during the early summer. During these surveys twelve fish will have radio telemetry transmitters surgical implanted prior to their release back to the river. These tagged fish will be tracked throughout the summer, fall, and winter in hopes of better understanding the types of habitat the use for activities such as feeding, resting, and spawning. What information we collect will help better understand the life history of the species.

By teaming with FPL Energy and UMO we have the ability to combine resources, both expertise and equipment, that will provide an effective study. We thank FPL Energy for providing the financial resources to purchase the radio telemetry transmitters for the study.

There you have it, a quick snapshot of a few of the activities our group is undertaking in 2007. With spring around the bend we, like most anglers, are looking forward to getting out on the water!

· Joe Dembeck, Research Fisheries Biologist, Lake Research Group, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Bangor, ME.

Ice Fishing the North Country from a Central Maine Perspective
It could be said for those who travel to fish in the North Country, they could be in for more than just good fishing. This was no exception when I made my way to Big Eagle Lake in mid February. It was just after the big snowstorm when I left the central Maine area. The interstate was in the process of melting. The Bangor area looked as though they had some wet snow. That was obvious from the glaze reflecting off the roadway. My movement north was confined to the travel lane, vehicles where in single file, like a small military convoy carrying explosives. The occasional fool, who thought the glaze was nothing more than a wet road, would attempted to pass the convoy only to fall back in rank after they realized why a convoy was established in the first place.

The destination for me was the Ashland Fish and Wildlife Office, normally about 3 ˝ hours away. I thought I made pretty good time, giving the conditions, until I reached Knowles Corner (junction 212 & 11) in Moro Plt. A creeping empty pulp truck further delayed me. A sign along the way, suggested that Ashland was only 33 mile away, but after an hour or so I thought the sign was just a hoax. As the miles crawled by, I would occasionally cross a potato field where the blowing snow gathered on the roads and produced white out conditions. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for any wild turkey that may be released in such an environment.

Finally Ashland ! It was like getting home from running a marathon, but it was only a rest stop as we loaded up the trucks and headed for Big Eagle. I was spared from any driving, good thing. The journey was now to take place on the Pinkham road and it was a weekday. Weekdays equate with logging activity, and you know who has the right of way. The Pinkham road was nothing more than an ice covered racetrack. Logging trucks would notify us where they where in relationship to mile markers on a radio and we would do the same to avoid any mishaps. With names Like Chandlers Corner or Chandlers dip one could see why these radio transmission were crucial to survival.

The same feeling of relief occurred when we finally reached the Ziegler Parking lot. This time I new it was for real. My work would consist of a creel survey on Big Eagle Lake. How hard could it be? The camp is on the lake and the lake is only 9500 acres. For the next two days the snow did nothing but blow. The terrain on the surface of the lake was like nothing we ever see in Central Maine. Snow blown mounds like great sand dunes in a barren dessert reached four feet in height. Behind these mounds lay bare ice to comfort your snowmobile’s descent.

To make matters worst, I think I had a sand blaster strapped to the front of my sled, pointed directly at my face. My face shield seemed to do nothing more than constrict my vision and test my depth perception. I found myself yelling and cursing and had to remind myself that I was getting paid to do something that I love to do as I launched over these wind swept dunes.

One must also remember on one of these trips not to take for granted the little things. Like who was going to get the water for camp. It was my turn to get the water and the spring was visited on several occasions. One would have thought that the trail was packed down. I found out that the trail was indeed packed, but not enough for my Scandic 500. The crater that I created trying to get myself out looked like a land mind had gone off buried deep in the ground.

On a positive note I did see some signs of spring while I attempted to rescue my obese sled. Green grass was trying to peek up threw the snow to take a look at the sun in the bottom of my crater.

I would like to thank the boys of Region G for their hospitality and their dedication in the light of some pretty brutal field conditions. Please send the global warming ASAP to the Ashland area. I would also recommend that if you have never fished the North Country you should try it sooner in life rather than later. There are plenty of places to stay and the fishing can be great.

- Scott Davis, Fisheries Biology Specialist, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and

Submitted by Mark Latti, DIFW

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.