Last January, Peter Kallin of Rome stopped at my home, and in the middle of our conversation, said something that perked my ears up straighter than a Boston terrier’s.
Kallin was talking about his 2012 open-water season on Long Pond in the Belgrade Lakes, where he had caught 30 landlocked salmon, impressing me.
The salmon fishery there had hit hard times in the past 15 or more years, but according to anglers lately, landlocks (and brookies) are coming back.
In the four or so weeks since Kallin visited, two separate strangers have struck up conversations with me and praised Long Pond’s salmon fishery last year, but they hadn’t done as well as Kallin, a well-known man in the Belgrade Lakes outdoors scene.
Recently at Day’s Store in downtown Belgrade Lakes village, I saw Kallin and, like me, he was walking on the old wooden floor with the delightful creaks, making his way through narrow, dimly lit aisles, typical in stores from past generations. Day’s is like a visit to another time.
The topic of Long Pond salmon again popped up, and Kallin and I were again talking about a pond that once had an extremely storied landlock fishery that flourished big time from the mid-1980s into the 1990s. It was so good then that I kept a boat and motor on the pond, and often wrote that it was one of the three best landlocked salmon waters in the state.
In the past decade, my bicycling route in April passes two favorite Long Pond early-season hot spots — The Spillway in downtown Belgrade Lakes, and the bridge, culverts and boat launch at Castle Island, the latter within sight of the famous 106-foot deep hole. Even at ice-out, anglers or boats and trailers never crowd these two spots or the Wings Mills Dam on Belgrade Stream just downstream of Long Pond, another April honey hole.
These places once attracted masses, and at the Long Pond boat launch, vehicles with trailers filled the parking lot and spilled onto the Castle Island Road. Once I counted 100-plus trailers — not typical but possible.
In this column, I’ve covered the absence of anglers at these once storied spots, and the loss in April and into May hurts local businesses like Day’s Store, and other convenience stores and restaurants around the lakes.
Why would the salmon population now be increasing in Long Pond?
To offer a hypothetical answer, let’s turn the calendar back to 1992:
That spring I attended an Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council meeting, and listened to the pros and cons of turning Long Pond into an artificial-lure-only (ALO) water, a move instigated by Ray Owen’s fishing initiative. Dennis McNeish, an IFW regional fisheries biologist in charge of Long Pond, spoke and supported the new proposal. He said this water needed ALO for two reasons:
First, Long Pond lay near large population centers like Augusta, Waterville, Brunswick and Lewiston, creating intense fishing pressure.
Second, the growing population of illegally introduced northern pike there was putting additional kill pressure on salmon.
Public pressure killed the proposal, and as McNeish predicted, the salmon fishery nose-dived.
Afterward, salmon anglers eventually stopped pounding this water, so McNeish’s first concern disappeared — too many anglers killing fish. Meanwhile, IFW continued stocking salmon in Long Pond, and in 2011 and 2012 alone, released 2,000 salmon each year — numbers similar to the department’s long-term stocking figures.
I fished Long Pond hard from about 1980 to the mid-1990s, and the salmon population began taking off circa 1984-85. Every April, early May and late September, I caught decent-sized salmon, and lots of them.
Seventeen- to 18-inch specimens were particularly abundant in the fall after a summer of growing, and I expected to catch 22-inch and larger salmon each year.
In the 1980s, brook trout were common catches there, too, if anglers knew where to target them. Some years, butterball-fat brookies would consistently run 16 inches.
My two favorite places to cast flies for brookies were in the upper basin. One was on the east shoreline from the recreational center beach south down the southeast cove, and the second lay on the west side from the mouth of Beaver Cove south down the shore for about a half-mile.
I’d like to see those salmon (and brookie) days from the 1980s and early 1990s return, and recent reports I’ve heard give me hope. Local businesses that once catered to that April-May salmonid fisheries during the dead time of the business year are also rooting for a salmon resurgence. Time will tell the story, but it’s looking good already.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: