If you survey Maine anglers to find out what cold water species of fish they most enjoy pursuing, it’s no contest. The beloved brook trout always wins hands down! Those same anglers will tell you that they would like to see Maine grow more and bigger brookies. That angler sentiment was the impetus for Maine’s Quality Fishing Initiative, a bold plan spearheaded by former Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Ray “Bucky” Owen back in the mid- 1990s.
Bucky’s vision was predicated on the simple premise that if you put fish back in the water they will live to grow bigger. His Quality Fishing Initiative involved reduced bag limits and more restrictive length limits. It has been about 15 years since the initiative was launched. Has it worked?
The answer, if you ask serious anglers and fisheries people, is a qualified “yes.” Maine’s wild brook trout sport fishery seems to have made some positive strides, though we still have a way to go. Yet our brook trout fishing may never again be like it once was.
What is a trophy Maine trout anyway? How big does a brook trout have to be before we take special notice? Two pounds? Three pounds? More?
In his book “Big Trout” author and angler Bernie Taylor says that a brookie must be 4 pounds or more to be worthy of calling it a trophy fish. That may be a run-of-the-mill brook trout in Labrador, but in Maine today a 4- pound brook trout is a fish to celebrate. In more than 40 years of fly-fishing Maine waters, I’ve yet to boat a brookie in that class. My friend, the late Millinocket guide Wiggie Robinson, had a pair of handsome trout in that class mounted on the wall of his West Branch camp. They were caught from a pond in Baxter State Park quite a few years ago in July on a #14 Blue Dun. There was a Green Drake hatch on. A patient, persistent angler who was intimately familiar with a lot of Maine trout water, even Robinson wasn’t catching trout of that size during his last few years.
You don’t have to go back that far to pinpoint the halcyon days of Maine’s trout fishing. In his book “Twelve Months in Maine,” the late Bud Leavitt wrote this in the mid 1970s. “Every year Maine trout fishermen grass a long line of 3-to 7-pound beauties.”
Other big brookie anglers of that era cited by Bud were John Dixon of Orrington who boated a 7-pound, 8-ounce brook trout at Moosehead Lake. Patty Lou Walters of Waterville put a 7-pound. brookie on the ice at Messalonskee Lake and a Connecticut angler nailed a 7-pound, 2-ounce trout at Pierce Pond in 1963.
Seven pound Maine brookies! Just imagine. For a long time the Maine record brook trout was an 8-pound,. 5-ounce brookie that guide Dixon Griffin took out of Pierce Pond in Somerset County. That record was eventually bested when an Aroostook County angler purportedly caught an even heftier trout – -nearly nine pounds – – at one of the Black Ponds. Legend has it that the angler actually dredged the monster squaretail from a different pond altogether. Fish stories, as we all know, can range from the evasive to downright fictitious. According to one report, a new record brook trout was discovered belatedly. The Maine Sportsman reported a few years ago that Mark Collins of Marshfield, Mass. boated a 9-pound brook trout at Square Pond in Aroostook County in May of 1997.
Big Maine trout. Where do you get them and how? Although I am one of those easy-to-please fly-fishermen who is content playing with 10-inch brookies on the surface with dainty dries, I did probe the big trout question in your behalf. Here’s what I found.
In his book “Fishing Maine,” author and angler Tom Seymour recommends Prestile Stream, Moose River and Rangeley Lake for bigger-than-average trout. He also advises that big trout shoppers carefully study the fishing lawbook. He writes “Anglers intent upon taking trophy fish should take notice of those ponds that are strictly regulated as part of the Quality Fishing Initiative, because these will produce the largest trout.”
Kennebec River outfitter and Maine angling advocate Bob Mallard has this advice for big trout chasers:
For rivers it is the Rapid River, bar none. The Roach sees some decent fish as does the Magaloway. For large lakes, it is Eagle but I believe we are hitting her way too hard in the winter to sustain the fishery. For small ponds they are too delicate for me to mention “publicly” but Baxter and the AT (Appalachian Trail) are a good start. Access is key to the small ponds and tough to reach ponds with strict regs are your absolute best bet (eliminate either and the odds for big fish go way down)..
In his book “Big Trout” Bernie Taylor coaches you not to overlook the obvious. Three of his big trout lessons include: 1) Successful fishing happens only when your fly is in the water. 2) You can find success by eliminating the variables. Simplicity in your flies, gear and techniques is the golden key to catching trout, especially large ones. 3) If you fish in the places where the big fish are, when they are actively feeding, you will catch them.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors.” His e-mail address is [email protected] He has three books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook,” “Backtrack,” and his latest, “The Maine Angler’s Logbook.”.”
Illustration by V. Paul Reynolds