August 18, 2013

Mark Latti: Maine provides a bastion for brook trout

Before Labor Day arrives and the summer unofficially ends, we all try to cram the last of our summertime activities into a few short weeks or even a couple weekends.

For some, it may be one last trip to camp, for others a day-long hike or perhaps something as simple as an evening paddle. For all of us, it seems to be that one activity that we have yet to enjoy or can never get enough of.

For me, it often means stream fishing for brook trout.

Over the years, I have accumulated an arsenal of fishing gear with multiple rods for a variety of finned species. It makes me wonder how as a kid I ever survived with just one rod for freshwater, saltwater, lakes, rivers, streams and brooks.

But before the summer ends, I grab my smallest spinning rod and reel, put on a pair of shorts and beat-up sneakers to go trout fishing in one of my favorite brooks.

Maine is blessed with brook trout. The state has been called the last stronghold for eastern brook trout, and it's easy to see why. Maine is still a mostly undeveloped, forested state, and there's no shortage of streams and brooks, many of them flush with brook trout.

"We are a rural state, with a hydrology and geology that complements brook trout," says Francis Brautigam, a fisheries biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. "Heavy agriculture and heavy development make huge impacts on brook trout."

And that type of land usage is largely absent in much of Maine.

"A large part of the state is undeveloped. In the past there was a lot of damage by logging, but many streams have recovered," says Brautigam.

With comparatively little development in Maine compared to other eastern states, brook trout do well here.

"A lot of our streams are shaded, that helps maintain cool water temperatures and provides habitat such as woody debris," says Brautigam. "We also have low species diversity in our systems, and that aids brook trout."

Temperatures are key for trout survival. In the summer, ideally you want a stream that is the mid-60s. Temperatures in the mid-70s are lethal for brook trout. Many of Maine's brooks and streams have large groundwater components, keeping waterways cool even in the heat of summer.

"Brook trout are also very tolerant of acidic conditions," says Brautigam, which are prevalent in Maine.

Still, brook trout need protection, and every Aug. 16 regulations change to protect brook trout during vulnerable periods.

"We are a rural state with a largely intact brook trout population, but we are not immune. Brook trout tend to spawn earlier than other trout, as they start to spawn in September," says Brautigam. "Typically, we also have low, low flows this time of year, and trout are concentrated."

A one-fish limit and an artificial lures-only regulation help protect brook trout this time of year. The regulations are designed to reduce killing trout through hooking injuries, limit the take of trout, protect spawning trout and limit handling of trout.

The regulations help ensure that for summers to come, we will still be able to find native brook trout in streams and brooks throughout the state.

So before the summer is over, I will be battling the alders and bugs and beavers. I will have slogged through areas of silt and slime. I will cast while precariously perched on beaver dams and moss-covered rocks, all in search of brook trout that generally don't get larger than eight inches.

And I will enjoy every minute of it, for it will probably be June before I once again get a chance to catch another fish as beautiful as a Maine brook trout in a boulder-strewn stream.

Mark Latti is a Registered Maine Guide, and the Landowner Relations/ Recreational Access Coordinator for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

 

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