Anglers fishing Eagle Lake this upcoming season are encouraged to keep legal salmon they catch in the 12-16″ range. The current rule allows three salmon per angler per day to be kept; salmon must be at least 12 inches in length. We continue to be concerned with high numbers of small, slow growing salmon at Eagle Lake, so increasing harvest is a first step in improving the salmon fishery. Reducing salmon numbers at a time of high smelt abundance should result in better salmon growth and fewer, but larger, salmon available to anglers.
You should see an informational flyer (Eagle Lake 2014) posted this summer at boat launches, the Town office, and other locations around Eagle Lake encouraging anglers to keep their salmon catch.
Eagle Lake Overview
Eagle Lake is one of the focal waters of the Fish River Chain of lakes in northeast Aroostook County. At 5,580 acres, it is the third largest water in the Chain. Eagle has diverse fish habitat that is ideal for salmonid sport fish. Brook trout, salmon, lake trout (togue), burbot (cusk), and rainbow smelt all support important fisheries at Eagle, and smelt provide the main forage for salmon and togue.
Togue, brook trout, and lake whitefish historically made up the fishery in Eagle, but things changed dramatically with the introduction of salmon and smelt in the late 1800s. The Fish River and its chain of lakes became renowned for tremendous salmon fishing throughout the 20th century, at times producing very large fish. In recent years, Eagle has become better known for its ability to grow and support large togue, while other lakes have been more noted for salmon fishing.
Salmon caught at Eagle Lake in 2004
Eagle Lake Salmon Fishery
For more than 20 years now, salmon fishing at Eagle Lake has seen a few highs, but mostly lows. It seemed efforts by biologists to improve salmon growth was always met with some measurable but very short lived success. You name it and it happened at Eagle Lake – from variable survival of hatchery salmon and togue in the 1980s, a highly variable smelt population, an ever increasing wild salmon population and an explosion in wild togue in 2004 – there always seemed to be an issue that pushed the balance of predator/prey, (in this case salmon/smelt) out of whack and resulted in small, thin salmon. Around 2000-2001, for example, smelt were so few in number that a hydroacoustic survey found the lowest smelt density of any Maine lake surveyed at the time. Later, in 2004, salmon growth rebounded (see photo above), but that same year a large wild togue population developed, likely set back any progress made in the salmon fishery for several years.
Eagle Lake salmon from 2013 showing heavy infestation of larval granulomas of the tapeworm Diphyllobothrium and also adult Eubothrium worms on the far right of photo.
Another major issue facing Eagle Lake salmon is the heavy infestation of two species of tapeworm. These parasites cause severe scarring throughout internal organs, which impacts the fish’s ability to feed and fill their stomach. There are two species of tapeworm we are seeing in salmon at Eagle Lake: Diphyllobothrium and Eubothrium, both of which could be severely impacting salmon growth. The Diphyll tapeworm can be see in salmon and trout stomachs as larval granulomas – yellow/white nodules throughout the internal organs (see photo). This tapeworm does not develop into a full adult worm until it reaches the gut of a herring gull. Intermediate hosts include not only salmonid fish but also copepods, the zooplankton food commonly consumed by smelt. The Eubothrium tapeworm matures as an adult within the gut of salmon and can be seen in the far right of the picture as long, thin yellow worms.
Many factors have contributed to less than ideal salmon fishing at Eagle Lake. A large number of small, slim salmon is not producing the fishery that many of our anglers would like to see. While we work to learn more about fish populations in Eagle Lake and improve things where possible, you can help improve salmon growth by keeping your legal limit of small salmon.