Mainers love brook trout, and surveys throughout the decades show that brookies reign as this state’s most targeted species. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIF&W) conducts some of the polls and sees other ones, and officials in this agency answered the call.
In recent years, DIF&W has engaged in two programs to increase public availability of brook-trout waters.
Because so many quality brookie fisheries remain closed through winter, fisheries biologists and hatchery personnel have stocked marginal brook-trout waters with brookies specifically for ice-fishing crowds. Anglers catch most of these fish in winter and after ice-out before summer’s hot sun kills the fish. This simple management tool offers ice anglers an attractive fishery, and spring trollers reap the leftover bonus.
DIF&W has opened some brookie ponds historically closed to ice-fishing each winter, and Jason Seiders, a regional fisheries biologist in DIF&W’s Region B office in Sidney, has mentioned two waters now opened after decades of winter closure.
DIF&W has historically closed Jamies Pond in Manchester and Farmingdale to ice fishing. This winter, for the first time, anglers can ice-fish this pond where DIF&W has stocked brookies, including 400 fall yearlings (13 inches), 500 fall fingerlings (8 inches) and 35 brood-stock. Seiders said that the department will be doing creel surveys there to determine the success of the stocking program.
Wiley Pond in Boothbay, also historically closed to ice-fishing, opens to anglers this winter but with three caveats:
• The ice-fishing season runs in February only.
• DIF&W prohibits live fish as bait.
• Only kids can fish.
In 2012, Wiley received 1,000 7- to 8-inch brookies.
Seiders recommended McGrath Pond in Oakland for a winter brook-trout outing. DIF&W has recently stocked 1,000 fall fingerlings (8-inch length), 400 fall yearlings (11 to 15 inches) and retired brood-stock brookies there, some up to 4 pounds.
DIF&W also released brood-stock brookies into Minnehonk Lake in Mount Vernon this past fall. They also range up to 4 pounds. After DIF&W stocked these big brookies last year, anglers caught most of them, an incentive to continue the program. Also, the department releases 11- to 15-inch brookies in Minnehonk.
Seiders said that it’s a management plus to have a good return on stocked fish. Of course, depending on habitat, this biologist realizes that holdover stocked salmonids have a place, too, like bigger fish the next year.
DIF&W has also released 11- to 15-inch fall yearling brookies in Minnehonk, a wicked aesthetic setting with a village on the north end, complete with a quintessential country store.
For browns, Seiders began with Salmon Lake in the Belgrade region, where the department has stocked brood-stock browns up to 10 pounds and fall yearling browns 12 to 14 inches.
Seider has recommended Cochnewagan Lake in Monmouth, where DIF&W also released brood-stock browns up to 10 pounds and younger fish in the 13-inch range. This lake also has a brookie fishery.
Seiders thought St. George Lake would be a good bet for 3- to 5-pound salmon this winter and also expects fish to average 17-inch lengths. DIF&W will survey St. George’s salmon and brookie fishery in winter 2014.
Maranacook Lake landlocked salmon will also receive research attention this winter. DIF&W stocks 250 8-inch salmon a year and stopped releasing togue years ago. This cutback on lake trout has increased the smelt population, a high-quality landlock forage. This lake has produced salmon between 3 and 8 pounds as of late, thanks to smelt.
In mid-December, William Woodward, a retired fisheries biologist turned bait dealer, told me that ponds and lakes in central Maine had a 5- to 6-inch ice layer.
By Jan. 1, though, warm weather or currents or springs below the ice can keep it unsafe in places. However, many Maine ice anglers must already know the safety rules since there are so few mishaps.
For others, game wardens remind us of the dangers in newspapers and magazines or in TV public-service announcements. Those warnings must help drowning numbers stay in check through winter.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: