Lots of trout-and-salmon anglers release the vast majority of fish they catch, a good policy to sustain a quality salmonid fishery, and here’s why: Maine’s freshwater habitat has negatives that make this resource incredibly fragile:

This state’s sterile water cannot support a large salmonid population per acre.

And lack of suitable spawning habitat forces Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to stock expensive hatchery fish to create a trout-and-salmon fishery. Killing a daily limit or two daily limits of five brook trout each day may cost IFW more than the annual price of a license – a pyramid scheme.

Folks into catch-and-release (C&R) for cold-water species should be commended for their sacrifice, but the ones following this regimen shouldn’t preach against or ostracize anglers who catch and kill much of their catch. Logic wins hearts and minds, not verbal force. These days we see and hear daily reminders of that “logic” aphorism in Congress.

Another tact helps the C&R crowd understand anglers who kill most of their trout and salmon, and it offers insight into why people take their catches home, insight that can lead to better approaches for teaching C&R’s message. When sides have common ground, they can engage in more meaningful dialogue.

Maine has warm-water species such as white perch, yellow perch, sunfish, black crappie, hornpout, even bony pickerel and so forth that have suitable habitat to thrive and can easily survive catch-and-kill pressure. In the salt, mackerel, cunner, cusk, etc. hold their own against anglers.

Even if C&R followers cannot bring themselves to harvest a fragile resource, they surely shouldn’t object to fish fries from, say white perch or black crappie, two of the best eating species that swim in Maine. And crappie are not indigenous anyway.

This fish-fry topic reminds me of an anecdote from 25 years ago. One evening in early May, I was driving past the Wings Mills dam on Belgrade Stream below Long Pond, back when a good landlocked-salmon fishery in Long Pond in the Belgrade Lakes was drawing hundreds and hundreds of anglers each spring,

Steve Duren stood on the plank structure’s east side, intently fly-fishing a nymph in the slick current.

This superb fly rodder learned the sport in the Catskills, the cradle of American fly fishing, so I was curious as to what was intriguing him.

I hiked to the dam. Steve turned rather excitedly and said something to this effect: “White perch are lying in the slick here, taking my caddis emerger just like a trout or salmon would.”

Duren had thrown several perch on the dam and explained that his wife, daughters and he would be having a fish fry that night – the goal of a consummate fly fisher who normally lived and breathed salmonids and the world of the slender wand.

It’s OK to kill warm-water species that thrive in Maine, and in fact, research has shown that harvesting white perch keeps their population low enough so that a pond doesn’t produce small, stunted-growth perch. (More often than not, the addition of invasive northern pike serves the same purpose of encouraging larger white-perch sizes.)

I like to catch white perch or mackerel for a fish fry. The flavor and meat consistency of mackerel freshly caught and immediately placed in a zip-lock bag to lay on ice pleases my palate.

Most of us can understand the allure of eating fresh trout and salmon. If we do it occasionally, that’s fine. Doing it every trip, though, produces more pressure than the resource can withstand.

Many Maine salmon lakes have one to two salmon per acre, so it doesn’t take much killing to create a population dent in a 2,000-acre lake.

A holier-than-thou attitude to win converts fails, but dialogue wins the day when sides show respect and offer sacrifices. We live in a democracy that has thrived on consensus, and it works when folks are wrestling with the well-being of a fragile resource, where everyone wants a share of the pie.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at

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