Thursday, December 5, 2013
I was ready to go shad fishing for the first time in years. As you may have heard, American shad have made quite a comeback in Maine. Now when the shadbush blooms along the riverbanks, there actually is a very good chance that shad are running in Maine rivers.
Unfortunately, by the time I returned from trout fishing up north, it rained, rained again and rained some more. River levels rose to a height not seen in years. And with that raging current, all the shad that were roiling near the dams and inlets of tributaries were flushed out of the river, and with it, my chance to hook onto a memory.
That got me thinking about the other effects of the weekend's deluge on fish and birds in and along Maine's rivers and coast. Just one look at the coffee-colored, swollen Androscoggin made me wonder what could ever survive a royal flushing like that.
"Even with the water ripping, fish hunker down, hunker in along the edges, in the more marginal shallower water," said Francis Brautigam, a fisheries biologists for the state who said that high water levels for short periods of time are not a problem for most fish. It is the events of longer duration that can have an impact.
"If it is prolonged, you get more problems. As fish start to move and feed, they become more vulnerable, but they can certainly withstand high water for a period of time. Over the years, fish have learned to adjust to these periodic episodes."
Even though the high water might have pushed the shad out of the river for now, many believe they will return to spawn as the water gets lower. Alewives, which entered Maine's coastal rivers over a month ago, are actually aided by high water.
Having already spawned, adult alewives are looking to return to the sea. Most times, dams are impediments to their journey back to saltwater, but with water like this, they slip right over the tops.
Striped-bass fishermen know that 8 inches of rain in a 48-hour period is anything but good for the fishing. Department of Marine Resources Fisheries biologist Bruce Joule said that it will be a week or two before the good fishing resumes in our rivers, but that since there was "a dry spring, things were not as bad as they could have been."
With the early-season striper fishing the best in three seasons, the floods were a disappointment. However, that will be short-lived if the striper fishing returns to the levels seen three seasons ago.
So while the impacts on fish seem to be, at worst, temporary, birds nesting near the water were not as fortunate.
According to Brad Allen, a wildlife biologist for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, beach nests were wiped out by the heavy rains and the extreme tides.
Only six of the 40 documented piping plover nests survived the rains and tides, and least terns did not fare much better.
"Eight inches of rain is a horrible thing if you are 3 days old," said Allen, who said that the heavy seas and rain washed terns and their nests right off the rocks.
On rivers and lakes, shore nesters such as loons and ring-necked ducks most likely saw their nests get washed away. The good news is that for many birds, like ringnecks, there still is time to renest.
As for upland birds, it is a little too early to tell how the rain affected grouse and turkeys. In the next couple of weeks, fields will get mowed, and people will start seeing turkey broods in the fields, and we will get a better idea just what impact this storm had on those species.
The late broods will be in contrast to woodcock, which Allen said had the earliest hatchings he's seen in Maine.
"It's been a lesson in extremes. It has not been catastrophic, it has not been outstanding, it has been somewhere in the middle," he said.
Which, if Allen is correct, proves once again that if nothing else, Mother Nature loves her averages.
Mark Latti is a Registered Maine Guide, and the landowner relations/recreational access coordinator for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.