| The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries is looking to simplify brook trout fishing laws while still making sure that brook trout receive the same level of protection afforded by the department's quality fishing initiative.
"We want to make the regulations easier to understand, yet we want to maintain the level of protection that have allowed brook trout to grow and brook trout fishing to improve over the past eight years," said John Boland, director of fisheries operations.
Currently the department has 41 separate brook trout regulations that would be condensed into 8 regulations. The eight new regulations are divided into four categories. One would provide for general law fishing opportunities allowing a bag limit of two or five fish. The second category would provide for quality fishing opportunities, placing a limit of one or two fish with either slot limits or minimum length limits. The third category is for trophy fishing opportunities where regulations would require catch-and-release fishing only, or a one fish bag limit with a minimum length of 18 inches. Most of the proposed changes would deal with brook trout regulations on lakes and ponds.
"These are the first of our changes that mark the beginning of a project that will ultimately simplify the regulations governing the taking of all major game fish in all types of lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams," said Boland.
At this point, the department is seeking public comments on this concept. For a full description of the proposed changes, interested anglers should visit http://www.state.me.us/ifw/lawsrules/fishingproposals/index.htm and http://www.mefishwildlife.com. For comments, anglers should e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The proposed changes would be the first major regulations update since 1996, when new regulations were imposed on 334 of Maine's 1,103 brook trout lakes with the intent of reversing a long-term decline in mature fish, which are necessary for the survival of Maine's trout populations. Over a five-year period, biologists in the Rangeley, Moosehead, Penobscot and Fish River lakes regions conducted creel surveys and population estimates on their wild brook trout populations. The survey revealed that under the new rules fish lived longer, the average size of trout caught increased, the catch rate doubled and the average time to catch a legal-sized trout was cut in half.
It may seem that regulations are becoming more restrictive every year, but in a way it's anglers' own fault. I can recall many years ago seeing cooler after cooler of 3- and 4-pound brook trout leaving Moosehead Lake at the end of a productive trip. And, for years before that, anglers were catching and keeping much larger fish. If you visit some of the old camps and cottages around the lake you'll invariably find crude drawings of huge trout taken back in the “old days,” but each one of those fish was an important brood fish that could have replaced itself 10,000 times over had it been left in the lake. Big as Moosehead is, it's not a bottomless pit of giant trout, and it's only hoped that we have braked our greed in time.
Of course, most of these new regulations apply to lakes and ponds. You can still find great fishing in streams much closer to home, and in many cases you'll still find the familiar, brightly-colored native brookies that were the mainstay of Maine fishing for more than 100 years. Most of these fish won't break 10 inches, but they are a pleasure to catch and a joy to observe. Native brookies rival the wood duck for color and sparkle - the brightest rainbow trout looks like a pale dishrag in comparison. And, brook trout fit just right into a packable frying pan, which is another reason they are (and were) so popular back in the “fill the canoe” days.
At this time of year it's tough to find a good place to go for brook trout, especially if you are a stream fisherman. One the water warms up beyond 65 degrees trout vacate the area, at which point you need to become a trout hunter rather than a trout angler. You can still find fish to catch when the water warms up, but not in the middle of the stream where you had such great luck in early May. Now you have to look for dark, deep pockets of water, or find bridge pools and secluded bends choked with brush or overhanging hemlocks. The least shadow can lower water temperatures into the optimum range for trout, and if you are patient and accurate with your casting, you can fool fish that otherwise could not be fooled.
One mistake summertime anglers make is moving too fast and fishing too recklessly. You can't be pounding around on the shore or casting like a tournament bass fishermen if you want to have a chance of catching hot-weather trout. Move in on the water slowly with measured steps and wait a few minutes before casting to let things calm down. It helps if you wade or move upstream because trout face up-current while feeding and have a slight (but definite) blind side to the rear. Creep up slowly, cast your bait or fly to the head of the pool and let your offering drift downstream like any natural insect might. If the fish let you get that far without racing around the pool in a blind panic, your odds of success increase.
Most any garishly-colored fly will work on summer trout in these situations. A dry Royal Coachman (lots of white riding high on the water) is a popular pattern for Maine brook trout. Just let the fly ride the current from head to tail and let the fish decide where and when to take it. Most of the time the fish will hit at the tail of the pool, so let out plenty of line (or leader) to prevent unnatural drag on the fly, which will turn the fish off as fast as if you'd dove headfirst into the water.
If you prefer spin-fishing, try the tiniest spinners or minnow-imitating lures. In fact, try them at home first (in the bathtub if you must) to ensure that they spin or wobble properly the instant you start to retrieve them. A sluggish, uncooperative lure is the bane of small-stream trouters everywhere. There's simply no room in the average brook for lures that don't swim properly from the first turn of the reel handle.
Test your lures first, or I guarantee that you'll lose a great fish sometime because you didn't. No new regulation can protect you from your own impatience!