How could anyone enjoy wading into a wild trout river full of slimy stuff called “rock snot”?

And how pristine and peaceful will Maine seem if this disgusting alien algae gets here?

Or, as some say, when it gets here?

Active anglers are working to stop the migration of the algae didymo to Maine. But many say it is only a matter of time before it arrives.

It’s in New Hampshire, New York and several other states, and moving fast.

“It’s insidious in many ways. It’s invisible. You could carry it on your wading boots and not know it,” said Paul Gregory, an invasive species specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Didymo is a thick, slime-like algae that does well in cold streams with rocky bottoms, habitat that’s perfect for Maine’s prized cold-water game fish.

It chokes waterways, devastates insect life and threatens the survival of fish. It also makes casting into a river tough without getting lines caught up in the gunk.

Southern Maine biologist Francis Brautigam with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said it is overpowering.

“This particular algae has been introduced all around the world. The problem with it is it becomes so thick it literally smothers what is underneath. It eliminates habitat for fish and other organisms,” Brautigam said. “To our understanding, there are all categories of invasives… but this is a bad one. It will have a huge impact on recreational angling if it is established. It’s a thick, disgusting algae that literally coats everything.”

This is why last year Fly Fishing in Maine, a nonprofit aimed at fishing-related conservation issues, created wash stations at three of Maine’s most popular rivers. This year, starting today, the group is putting them back and adding two more.

At rivers like the Presumpscot in Windham, the Kennebago in the Rangeley region, and the legendary West Branch of the Penobscot River, fly fishermen will be asked and encouraged to clean up.

“Didymo is moving closer to Maine. It’s clearly moving around. We wanted stations not only as a way to slow the spread and slow the introduction, but to make sure there is increased awareness,” said Dan Tarkinson, founder and president of Fly Fishing in Maine.

“To me there is nothing that hits home more than active education, when you see (washing stations) and you see people using them. It hits anglers in a different way.”

Boats and canoes also have the potential to transport the algae, but Gregory said it needs to lodge on the bottom of a cold stream bed to take hold, so fishing waders are a big transport vehicle for didymo.

“This is why a wash station is a great idea. If fishermen get into a regular practice of cleaning equipment it will help, even if they are traveling across the country. They have the potential of carrying it in their boots, in their fishing tackle,” Gregory said.

L.L. Bean donated money to help create the washing stations and this year discontinued its felt-soled wading shoes to discourage the spread of didymo, said Mac McKeever, L.L. Bean’s senior public relations representative.

The outdoor retailer has been working to spread awareness of invasive plants since 1996, but ramped up those efforts the past two years because of the increasing problems with didymo, McKeever said.

“We’re getting out of felt all together. We’re a national retailer and it’s a serious problem in certain states. Alaska has a ban and Vermont will have a statewide ban in 2011. It’s a serious issue,” McKeever said.

And, environmental experts say, probably not one that will go away.

“I think you’d have to be fairly naive to prevent the spread and introduction here,” Tarkinson said. “There are just so many ways it can make its way here. Hopefully we will slow its occurrence and it’s spread.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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