Fall Fishing on the Lower Fish River

The following is a guest post by Kale O’Leary of Soldier Pond, Maine.  Kale is an environmental studies student at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, seasonal ranger on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, and contract worker for MDIF&W’s Fisheries Division. 

Kale_LLS_10_14For most of us, the month of October means the beginning of fall, and the start of our hunting season here in Maine. Fly rods find a safe place in our garages in exchange for our trusty shotguns. Many of us overlook fishing opportunities that are still present for Aroostook County anglers, and perhaps no better opportunity exists for landlocked salmon fishing as the famous Fish River.

For years, the Fish River has been known for producing quality sport fishing for wild brook trout and salmon, with some fish reaching great size. The river is fed by a chain of lakes renowned for quality sport fishing, including Long, Square and Eagle lakes, furthering the lure and aura around the river’s fishery.

Below Eagle Lake, the Fish River winds several miles before dropping over the Fish River Falls, a natural barrier which, so far, has seemed to keep invasive species such as muskellunge and smallmouth bass from advancing into these pristine headwater lakes. It is from the falls down to the confluence of the Fish River and the St. John River that changes to the fishing regulations have been put in place to benefit anglers looking for more opportunities after the “normal” September 30th end of the season.

Below the Fish River Falls, the river continues with many sharp bends, deep pools, and swift water that historically held a healthy population of salmon, which has been severely impacted by competition and predation from muskies and bass. Some salmon still return to the lower river to spawn each fall, but their offspring typically do not survive due to these invasive species. The regulation changes put in place this year, combined with the presence of these salmon and a yearly stocking program of 12+ inch hatchery salmon, give anglers the opportunity to fish this stretch of the Fish River year-round, including during prime fall salmon fishing. Already we have caught several nice landlocked salmon in this stretch of river, and the fishing seems to be just heating up!

Wood_FishRiverLLS_10_14Over the last several weeks we have routinely been fishing on the picturesque lower Fish River with good success. We have caught several of the fall yearling hatchery salmon, along with wild fish which are not year round residents of the lower river, but move in temporarily during spawning season. We have found success with various styles of fishing. Everything from Grey Ghosts, Pink Magog, and Joe’s Smelt streamers to a small Rapala casting smelt imitation have been used with success.

Access points to the lower Fish River are quite numerous. A well-marked, hiking trail on the east side of the river will bring you to the Fish River Falls. This can be reached from the Strip Road, just outside of Fort Kent. The trailhead begins on the Airport Road. Other access includes the public boat launch at Riverside Park, where the mouth of the Fish River can be accessed by a short walk.  The river can also be reached at the historic Blockhouse in downtown Fort Kent, and Crocker Beach, which can be accessed from the University of Maine at Fort Kent parking lot. A good pair of high boots or waders are optimal for wading into the river to access deeper water. Remember to seek permission from landowners before accessing private land.

Kale_LLS_10_14bFishing below the Fish River Falls to the confluence of the St. John River continues from October 1st through March 31st. Fishing regulations are artificial lures only, catch and release. Don’t forget that although muskies and bass are not native to this beautiful stretch of river, they are present and do provide another exciting fishery here. For more laws and regulations, please be sure and check a current 2014 Inland Fisheries and Wildlife law book.

Tagging and Tracking Munsungan Lake’s Togue

IF&W fisheries biologists have recently begun radio tagging and tracking togue at Munsungan Lake (T8R10 WELS) to better understand their movement and spawning habitat use.  Data gathered from the project should prove useful in future management of the lake’s togue population.

Background

Munsungan Lake lies at the headwaters of the Aroostook River watershed, just north of the Pinkham Road in a hilly region of northern Maine.  Munsungan has a beautiful setting bounded by Norway Bluff and Munsungan Ridge to the north and west, and flat terrain to the south toward the Pinkham Road.  The Lake has long been known for its excellent landlocked salmon fishing, but native lake trout (togue) and brook trout are also present.

A fall view of Munsungan Lake with Norway Bluff in the background.

A fall view of Munsungan Lake with Norway Bluff in the background.

While salmon fishing is the primary focus at Munsungan, the togue fishery has historically been very attractive because of the exceptionally large fish. Togue in excess of 10 pounds and up to 16 pounds were caught throughout the 1980s and 1990s.  Over the past 6-8 years the catch rate has been increasing, however, and lots of 14-20 inch are now being caught. Our recent surveys confirm the relatively high number of togue compared to historical information.  The Bradford Camps, a sporting camp establishment on the north shore, has provided some excellent voluntary fishing data that bears out the recent explosion in togue numbers.  At one time in the 1990s, an entire season of fishing would pass without a single togue being caught.

The Tagging Project

This month, we began radio tagging and tracking togue at Munsungan.  We were able to net several fish, surgically implant a radio tag, and release them alive.  For more than a year from now, we’ll be able to identify each fish’s specific location.  We are most interested in learning exactly where and when the Munsungan togue spawn, which periodic radio tracking of these fish should reveal.

Jeremiah Wood and Derrick Cote implanting radio tags at Norway Brook on Munsungan Lake.

Jeremiah Wood and Derrick Cote implanting radio tags at Norway Brook on Munsungan Lake.

Should anglers catch a togue at Munsungan Lake in 2015 that has a whip antenna (see photo) exiting the fish from the lower side, we ask that you voluntarily release the fish alive so that we can gain the maximum amount of information from each tagged fish.  The expected tag life should allow us to follow the fish during spawning in 2014 and 2015.

 

Lake trout with implanted radio tag - note antenna just ahead of ventral fin.

Lake trout with implanted radio tag – note antenna just ahead of ventral fin.

 

Fish River Stocking

FishriverstockingeOn Tuesday September 23rd, we stocked the lower Fish River (from the Fish River Falls downstream to Fort Kent) with 800 fall yearling landlocked salmon, measuring an average of 12″ long.

Fishriverstockingb FishRiverstockinga FishriverstockingdLast year, we experimentally stocked these fish and implanted radio tags in some to monitor survival and movement.  The fish did relatively well, but the river wasn’t yet open to year-round fishing, so we couldn’t determine whether they were catchable to anglers.

At the end of September, when most other area waters close to fishing, the Fish River from the Falls down to the mouth, will remain open to fishing for the first time.  From October-April, regulations call for the use of artificial lures only, and all trout and salmon must be released.

We look forward to seeing folks take advantage of this new fishing opportunity, and hope you will let us know if you fished here and what you caught.  This year’s hatchery salmon can be identified by looking for a missing left ventral fin (letter ‘E’ in image below).

finchart

Small Stream Cusk

Cusk are mostly known to Maine anglers as lake-dwelling fish that we catch at night during ice fishing season.  As it turns out, though, we find cusk in a variety of habitats in northern Maine that most wouldn’t consider cusk habitat.

IMG_1036This little guy was caught while electrofishing a very small, unnamed tributary to the upper St. John River this summer.  We’ve also caught cusk in the main stem of the St. John and in a few other small streams in the region.

IMG_1033What are cusk doing in these little streams?  Do the adults move up these small trickles to spawn in late winter?  Do the young disperse to find suitable habitat away from the warming river?  Or are these part of a unique population that lives year-round in small stream environments?

Maybe someday we’ll find out!

 

 

The Stream Bank Fish Shocker

IMG_1168Electricity is one of the most effective tools we use as biologists to capture fish for data collection. This summer, we got a new toy, a bank electrofisher that will make us even more efficient ‘fish shockers’.
IMG_1192The unit is pretty simple. It takes power from a portable generator and converts it to the type of electricity that safely and effectively stuns fish. We scoop them up with nets and collect the data we need before releasing them back to their homes.
IMG_1181We sampled several streams in the region using the bank shocker this summer, and found brook trout in each one, as well as some other fish species. The unit has three times the power of a traditional backpack electrofisher, so we’re also able to capture fish in larger streams where we haven’t been as effective in the past.

IMG_1206

Whitefishin’

LWF_Umsaskis_7_14As part of our ongoing fisheries monitoring work, we’ve been visiting a lot of lake whitefish waters in the region this summer. Lake whitefish are an often overlooked sportfish in northern Maine, but they can provide excellent angling opportunity in some of our more pristine lakes. The species has declined considerably over the past 50-100 years, so it’s important that we keep track of our whitefish populations.

One interesting fact about lake whitefish is that the species occurs in both normal and dwarf forms. While normal whitefish can grow to sizes of 18-20 inches or larger and live for more than 25 years, the dwarf form grows to a much smaller size, matures at a young age and has a very short life span. Some lakes have both dwarf and normal whitefish, while others have only one form. While they are still generally considered the same species, there is evidence to suggest that the dwarf and normal whitefish have become reproductively isolated over time such that we may be witnessing the formation of two distinct species. Interesting stuff!

Here are a couple of photos of whitefish we’ve recently sampled from the Allagash drainage.

LWF_BigE_8_14 LWF_Long_7_14

Public Hearing in Fort Kent on July 21

Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will hold the first of four public hearings in Fort Kent on July 21 to receive public comment on proposed changes to ice and open water fishing rules.  The proposed changes would take effect January 1, 2015.  Anyone unable to attend a public hearing may submit written comments on any of the proposals.

Location and time:  July 21, 2014, 6:30 PM at Fort Kent Community High School; 84 Pleasant Street, Fort Kent

The complete list of all hearings found here.

The complete package of 2015 proposals can be viewed here.

What are those little black spots?

“What are the black spots on the trout I just caught” is the most common question we hear this time of year. As soon as June arrives and anglers all over the State hit their favorite fishing hole, trout with “those black specks” start showing up. Here is some good information from former IF&W biologists to answer common questions such as: What is it? What causes it? Can I eat it?

“Black spot disease” or “black grub” in trout is caused by a trematode worm in its larval, or immature, stage. The tell-tale sign is small, sand-grain sized black spots on trout and other fishes. The level of infestation can range from just a few, barely noticeable spots to heavy with the fish nearly covered as in the large trout in the photo.

Heavy (larger trout) and low black spot infestation in brook trout from a northern Maine pond.

Heavy (larger trout) and low black spot infestation in brook trout from a northern Maine pond.

The species of trematode worm that causes black spot uses snails and fish as intermediate hosts in their immature stages.  Loons are the most common host for the adult worm living in the bird’s mouth and producing eggs that are eventually passed through the loon’s gut and into the water.  The eggs mature and produce ciliated miracidia that penetrate snails and other molluscs (the first intermediate host).  The worm develops into cercariae within the snail. As trout ingest and digest infected snails, cercariae become mobile, penetrating tissues of the second intermediate host (the trout). The mechanical damage caused by this mobile stage causes hemorrhaging.  Once the cercariae become stationary in the fish’s skin it produces the visible scarring in a slightly raised black spot.  The cycle is completed when a loon ingests an infected fish.

Anglers are usually most interested in whether trout with black spot are edible.  Proper cooking kills the parasite and renders the fish completely safe to eat.

Retired IF&W biologist Ron Brokaw wrote this 1972 article for Maine Fish and Game magazine.  Maine IF&W’s Fish Health Laboratory also released a more recent report on black spot as well.