A fisheries technician holds a seven-pound brook trout that was caught in a research net in Moosehead Lake in 2018. The trout weighed more than seven pounds. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

This is the fourth of four reports on the thriving brook trout fishery in Moosehead Lake as fisheries biologists consider different management initiatives that would help protect the fishery, including larger shore-spawning trout that may be particularly vulnerable during the winter months.

The brook trout fishing over the past few years in Moosehead Lake has been special. What we are witnessing here is something more similar to what exists in Quebec than in the rest of the state or New England. The removal of excessive lake trout starting in 2008 certainly has played a role in improving the survival of brook trout and especially these long-lived, lake-spawning brook trout. We’ve always had a few big trout caught each year, but nothing like what we are seeing now. Nowhere in our fisheries records do we see anything like this. We would have to go back to the early days of the 20th century to see trout fishing like we have now. I’ve had many very positive and supportive comments over the past few years and it seems anglers realize what we have, and they want to prolong it as best we can. The Lily Bay closure will help protect a large area with late fall and early winter spawning activity. But there is more we can do to promote and protect the lake-wide trophy component of the brook trout fishery.

We want to protect the trophy fishing without compromising the brook trout fishing in general, and we want regulations that could be implemented in both the summer and winter. It could also apply to the East Outlet and Moose River (below Brassua) since these fish originate from Moosehead Lake. As noted in my earlier report, conversations settled on the Department considering a protective slot limit. We can all play a role in protecting the quality brook trout fishery.

Therefore, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has proposed a new brook trout regulation for the start of the 2021 season. The 14-inch minimum length limit and 1 fish bag limit would remain the same. We have proposed that all brook trout between 18 and 22 inches be released immediately. Anglers would still be able to harvest a true wall-hanger over 22 inches. Anglers looking for a trout for dinner, could still keep a fish between 14 and 18 inches. This slot would essentially protect three- to five-pound brook trout. I noted in an earlier report that in my experience any new regulation should impact more than 25 percent of the harvested fish. This magnitude is often necessary to see a positive change in the fishery.

Back in 2006, we made the change from a 12-inch minimum length limit on brook trout to a 14-inch minimum length limit. We knew from our extensive winter creel survey data that fish between 12 and 14 inches made up about 30 percent of the harvest. We predicted that increasing the minimum length limit would “push” more fish into the larger size ranges in the coming years. That is exactly what happened. Catch rates dipped for a few years, then recovered and remained at a higher level. The change in minimum length improved survival and the number of brook trout in the lake increased. This change in 2006 likely also played a role in the outstanding brook trout fishery we are witnessing today.

Over the past three years, brook trout in the 18- to 22-inch range have represented close to 30 percent of the harvest. That’s a lot of big fish headed south on Route 15. We think that this level of protection from the slot limit will protect the three- to five-pound fish now and could push more trout into the over-five-pound range over the next few years, thereby sustaining this unique fishery. We will be monitoring closely to document any changes. These are exciting days for anglers and biologists alike.

We will continue our research in an effort to best manage the lake and we appreciate the assistance from the Moosehead Lake Focus Group. A public meeting will be held via video conferencing on Aug. 31. The comment period is open until Sept. 10.

Check here for more information.

Tim Obrey is the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s regional fisheries supervisor for the Moosehead Lake Region.