December 23, 2012

Allen Afield: For good measure, be precise when weighing game

By KEN ALLEN

Back in my early 20s, Maine's official state-record brook trout allegedly came from Pierce Pond -- an 8-pound, 5-ounce brookie. That weight gave me plenty of pause for thought in life, though, and here's why.

Around the time of the Civil War, an angler visiting the Rangeley region caught a 12-pound brook trout and traced the monster on a piece of birch bark with the weight, girth and length as proof. In my youth, I wondered why that 19th-century brook trout didn't rank as the official state record. After all, it outweighed the Pierce Pond fish by 3 pounds, 11 ounces.

One morning back in the 1970s, Lyndon Bond, the head fisheries biologist for the old Department of Fish and Game, answered that question, and his explanation has since stuck in my mind.

Anglers often estimated the size of 19th-century brook trout and used even weights -- say 4, 6 and 8 pounds -- and that was particularly true in the Rangeley region. I had never thought of that point before. How often do we catch a fish that weighs an even number of pounds? It happens, but it's rarer than we think.

Also, the Rangeley brookies and landlocks might have had quarter-pound figures along with many of the descriptions -- say 8 1/4-pound, 7 3/4-pound and so forth. Obviously, anglers also estimated the weights or at best had used quarter-pound increments on unreliable scales.

To show the rarity of even weights, please consider a day in northern Quebec. I caught eight brook trout in the 4-pound range and precisely weighed each one on a brass scale. Not one pulled the scale to exactly 4 pounds.

But anglers do catch even-weight fish, rare enough but possible. Twenty years after Bond told me about Rangeley's 19th-century salmonid weights, I was fishing the Medway River in Nova Scotia with a guide, Moyal "Tiny" Conrad Jr. Just before dark, I hooked a huge Atlantic salmon.

By the time the brute came to hand, someone had alerted a fisheries biologist, who weighed the fish on official scales before I released it, a 28-pounder. That even weight bothered me, too. I wish it were 28 pounds, 1 ounce or even 27 pounds, 14 ounces -- anything but 28 pounds. Whenever I mention that fish, I make it a point to say the "official" scales.

A recent article got me thinking about even weights. A writer whom I know and trust wrote about catching two lake trout of 10 and 11 pounds -- really suspect figures. What are the chances of catching two togue of even weights in one day?

Knowing this person, I think the story is true, but really, if I ever catch two large, even-weighted salmonids in a row, I'll buy a lottery ticket that very day.

Speaking of verisimilitude, I sometimes ask an angler a question and hate myself for it.

When Long Pond had excellent landlocked-salmon fishing 20 years ago, 20-inch salmon were common enough. When folks caught a 20-incher and even a little smaller, they often said, "I caught a 4-pound salmon today."

I often asked, "What was that salmon's length?"

Often the person said, "Twenty inches."

I think the penchant for modern anglers to release fish causes this mistake with weight and length, because they don't lay the dead specimen on a counter for precise figures.

A 20-inch salmon or brown weighs a tad over 3 pounds, unless it looks like a football. An average weight salmon or brown that goes 4 pounds will be in the 22-inch range, although West Branch of the Penobscot salmon below Ripogenus Dam can be an exception.

In New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, anglers can only kill grilse, an Atlantic salmon that has spent one instead of two years at sea, weighs 3 to 6 pounds and measures about 2 feet long.

In these provinces, anglers must release 2-year salmon, and it amazes me how many people catch and release 33- and 34-inch Atlantic salmon and call them a "20-pounder." A salmon that heavy measures 37 to 38 inches, depending on gender and fatness, and 34-inch fish weigh 14 to 15 pounds.

Game animals aren't immune from questionable weigh-ins, either. In "The Biggest Bucks in Maine Club," the official entry weight for entrance is a field-dressed 200-pounder, and lots of listed bucks weigh just that -- 200 pounds, not a tad larger.

What are the odds of so many deer weighing exactly 200 pounds? I believe that many deer tipped the scales in the 190-pound range, and with a wink, the store clerks gave them a 200-pound figure to get them in the club.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

KAllyn800@yahoo.com

 

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