STANDISH, Maine — Kurt Christensen, 57, grew up on Sebago Lake and has fished it his whole life. Christensen has eaten or released every lake trout he’s ever caught. That’s why he’s so mad.
Over the weekend, he found more than a hundred dead and wasted lake trout — or togue — frozen to the ice where fishermen caught the fish, then left them behind. Christensen sees it as a waste while the state says its part of a conservation plan.
“There’s no law against wasting fish like there is with deer,” Christensen said. “But we can’t do this, otherwise there’ll be no fish left when we want to take our grandkids, or the kid next door, fishing in the future.”
Besides, he said, it’s a really bad look for sportsmen and fishing in general.
Christensen found the first batch, at the southern end of the lake, on Saturday morning. About 50 fish were scattered around the series of holes where they were likely caught. He found the rest on Sunday.
The annual Sebago Lake Fishing Derby also took place over the weekend and Christensen suspects whoever left the lake trout was aiming for a prize winner and discarded anything that didn’t measure up.
“I’m not saying anything bad about the folks who run the derby,” Christensen said. “Those guys do a heck of a good job.”
Cyndy Bell, executive secretary of the Sebago Lake Rotary Club, which has run the derby for 21 years, said her organization actually offers to take all unwanted lake trout.
“This year, we took about 2,400 fish to Nova Seafood in Portland where they fillet and flash freeze them for us,” Bell said.
Afterwards, the fish are donated to local food pantries.
That, said Christensen, is what makes the wasted fish so awful, in his eyes.
He caught about 80 lake trout over the weekend and threw all but about a dozen back. The rest he put into his smoker.
Christensen doesn’t post much on social media, but he took to Facebook with his outrage over the weekend, posting pictures of the fish and garnering hundreds of shares and comments.
“Only an idiot would do that,” one commenter said.
“This is absolutely uncalled for,” another said.
However, several commenters pointed out that the Maine’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department actually promotes the behavior.
“The state encourages this. You’re crying on deaf ears,” one person wrote. “The tournament is a yearly purge of an overabundance of togue.”
It’s true, there is no limit on catching smaller lake trout on Sebago. Anything under 26 inches is fair game. The limit is one fish for anything bigger.
Technically, lake trout are an invasive species. They’re non native to Sebago. The state stocked them there in the 1970s and now they compete with native landlocked salmon for food — especially smelt. Earlier this month, the fisheries and wildlife department encouraged anglers to keep as many lake trout as they want.
“While this catch and release message was important several decades ago when we saw more fishing pressure and higher harvest rates by anglers … present day fisheries rely on harvest by anglers to maintain healthy fish populations and to achieve size quality management goals.”
Department spokesperson Mark Latti said it may seem counterintuitive but taking more fish is sometimes part of a conservation plan.
“The derby is part of the effort to remove lake trout from Sebago,” Latti said, “so we can have a healthy salmon population.”
He said he understands the bad optics which greeted Christensen on the ice this weekend. It’s not ideal but, in a year with good ice, anglers can catch upwards of 10,000 lake trout at Sebago in a single year. So, a hundred fish on the ice doesn’t amount to much.
“It’s just a fraction,” Latti said.
Christensen said he’s aware of the state’s policy. He doesn’t agree with it but he gets it, it’s just hard to look at all the wasted fish piled up on the ice.
“It’s terrible, there’s no need of it,” he said. “But I guess you can’t fix stupid.”