This skinny lake trout was captured during a 2018 trap-netting operation on Allagash Lake. Fishing rules have been liberalized on the lake in order to remove some of the fish and allow more forage for those that remain. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Ice anglers planning to fish a pair of northern waters will be fishing under new rules this year, according to a fisheries report from regional fisheries biologist Tim Obrey.

Obrey, who oversees management efforts in the Moosehead Lake region for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said slow growth rates of fish in Allagash Lake and Big Houston Pond have led to the rule changes.

On Allagash Lake, trap-netting and creel surveys revealed that lake trout were very thin because there were too many of the fish in the lake, and not enough forage for them to eat. Obrey said biologists estimated that not many people were fishing the lake — only about 200 angler-days for the entire ice fishing season — and that lack of fishing was not removing enough of those hungry lake trout from the lake.

“Unfortunately, this is a scenario we have seen play out on many waters recently,” Obrey said. “There is a decline in angler use, therefore the number of fish removed is lower, and soon growth declines because there are more mouths to feed.”

Allagash Lake, which had been open for ice fishing only in February, opened Jan. 1 and will remain open until April 30. In addition, the two-line limit regulation has been eliminated, and anglers can fish five lines. There will still be a two-trout limit, but biologists hope anglers will also target lake trout.

Obrey said a similar situation has developed on Big Houston Pond near Brownville, where a 23-inch minimum length on lake trout has led to an abundance of small fish.

Last winter, in fact, anglers reported catching 73 lake trout on Big Houston, and only two of those were “keepers” longer than 23 inches. Beginning this year, the minimum length will be lowered to 18 inches. The bag limit will remain at one fish, and the pond will still be open only during February.

In 2019, state fisheries officials also changed the “general law” for fishing in the north zone, outlawing the use of live fish as bait unless otherwise indicated by a special rule. That has led to a misconception among some that anglers on all of the state’s northern waters can no longer use live smelts or shiners as bait.

That’s simply not true.

Changing the general law was largely ceremonial, and was designed to emphasize the importance of the native and wild brook trout resources that exist in that northern zone, which includes Aroostook, Piscataquis, Somerset, Franklin, and portions of Penobscot and Oxford counties.

Most northern lakes and ponds that have traditionally been destinations for ice anglers are now listed with an S-code that specifically point out that live bait is still allowed.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...