April 14, 2013

This won't float your boat

With property values soaring and open land at a premium, freshwater fishermen are left high and dry, especially in southern Maine.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

CASCO - Fishermen, their boats and boat trailers were swarming around the boat launch at Sebago Lake State Park last Sunday. It was the start of the open-water fishing season, and prime time before the tourists arrive.

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It still being early in the season, a boat heads onto Sebago Lake via a public launch that soon may have a long wait due to a lack of such facilities, especially on lakes and ponds in York and Cumberland counties.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Dan Hillier of Naples doesn’t have any trouble launching his boat at Sebago Lake State Park, but come the prime boating season, it won’t be so easy.

Additional Photos Below

The Maine Appalachian Trail Club maintains 267 of the 281-mile section of Appalachian Trail in Maine. To learn more about the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, go to www.matc.org

Sure it's cold and the fish really have not begun feeding, but at least you can find a parking spot.

"At Jordan Bay in the summer, you have to get there right at daylight to get a parking spot. And it's too busy here at the state park. And (Sebago Station)? That's a mess," said Jimmy Morrill of Yarmouth, who's fished the lake for a half-century.

Each year the state adds roughly four public boat launches aimed at providing freshwater fishing access, said Leon Bucher, the chief planner and federal aid coordinator with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

But a new boat launch for freshwater fishing access has not been added in York or Cumberland counties for at least 10 years, said regional fisheries biologist Jim Pellerin.

And fishermen, especially those in southern Maine, have many waters on their launch wish list, Sebago being only one.

"Little Ossipee. It has one boat launch. In the summer months it's hard to get to the end of the lake. With the new stocking program, with rainbows and brook trout, that lake has taken off," said Kevin Stone of Gorham.

Jim Arnau of Naples said improved public access at Long Lake and Brandy Pond would be a plus. Arnau said season passes from private marinas can run several hundred dollars and cost as much as $40 a day.

Since 2010, IFW has acquired or developed sites on six waters, all in western, eastern or northern Maine. And this year four more will be added -- but again those launches are on waters beyond southern Maine.

IFW, one of several state agencies that works to acquire boat launch sites, has a list of priority waters from fisheries biologists. Those are the waters where there is high-to-moderate fisheries value and no guaranteed public access, Bucher said.

But he said where land costs more and open land is at a premium -- chiefly in southern Maine -- it's a challenge.

And in other areas of the state, it can be more complicated than that.

In some instances, traditional sites where the public had access across private land close when landowners decide the public doesn't deserve that privilege after abusing it. Then state officials scramble to find new access.

As private land it is well within the landowner's right, said biologist Greg Bur, but it is closing public waters in remote areas. Thus across much of the state, adding launches has become more of a priority.

"Since I started work in the mid-1980s, there have been 18 new launches. It's sometimes out of necessity. If we didn't do it, we'd lose (fishing) opportunity," Bur said.

The Downeast region has had much success but also its share of problems, Bur said.

In the month ahead, a grand opening will occur for a launch at Branch Lake in Ellsworth, but that was out of necessity.

"There was only a private launch. In 1997 the (owner) said they were selling it to a condominium association. In 1997 we started looking for a new boat launch site. We finally got it funded. We couldn't stock until that point. There was not fair and equitable access," Bur said.

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Additional Photos

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Trucks and trailers sit in the parking lot near the public boat launch at Sebago Lake, and those vehicles will soon increase in number.


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