When the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife teamed up with the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce on a togue-only fishing derby a year ago, biologist Tim Obrey had high hopes.
At the time, Obrey said he hoped the derby would help the DIF&W reach its goal to double the number of small lake trout taken from the water during the winter.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 was a typical winter harvest, he said, and he hoped anglers would catch and kill 6,000 to 8,000 small fish to reduce a population that was far too high.
On Wednesday, just days after the chamber’s second annual derby, Obrey said biologists have gotten their wish … and then some.
“We estimated approximately 30,000 togue less than 18 inches [long] were harvested last winter,” Obrey said. Included in that number were 2,024 registered during the first derby.
Over the weekend, during the second annual derby, another 1,864 togue were registered, and fisheries staffers were again pleased.
The DIF&W has instituted a regulation that allows anglers to keep as many short (under 18 inches) togue as they want, and to keep two fish longer than 18 inches.
Obrey said the DIF&W has no official estimate of the total number of togue in 74,890-acre Moosehead Lake. He does have historical data to rely on, however, and knows the togue population has to be reduced.
“What we do have is catch rates over time. We’ve been doing creel surveys on Moosehead since the late ’60s,” Obrey said. “Right now we feel the population of the smaller fish under 18 [inches] is three to four times higher than what our management goal is for the lake.”
Thus, the derby, and continuing efforts to reduce that population.
Derby organizer Bob Hamer reported that 409 single and family tickets were sold for this year’s event, and he estimated about 500 anglers took part.
Obrey said the liberal togue regulations on Moosehead are part of a short-term strategy to reduce the population. Also included in that strategy is a plan to lower the lake level during March during two of the next five years. That would have an effect on togue reproduction, as the fish lay their eggs in shallow spots that would be de-watered.
Although the derby has proven a potent weapon in DIF&W efforts, Obrey credited anglers for continuing to fish for togue throughout the winter in order to help biologists reach their goal.
“If you think of it, ice-fishing pressure statewide has gone down [in recent years],” Obrey said. “We were not only able to reverse that trend but were able to double our use last year.”
Obrey said the lake’s usage jumped from about 9,000 angler days to between 18,000 and 20,000 angler days last winter.
In addition to doing something to help out the lake’s fisheries, an added attraction has been more obvious: Word is getting out that Moosehead is a good place to go if you want to have a busy day of fishing.
And while Obrey is pleased that so many fish are being taken out of Moosehead, he says he and other staffers are paying close attention to the situation and are willing to make any management changes necessary as the togue population comes back under control.
“It’s impossible to put a date as to when we’d change the regulations,” Obrey said. “It could be this year, or it could be five years from now.”
The big winners from this year’s Moosehead Lake Chamber of Commerce togue derby: Roscoe Ryan of Warren, who took first place and won $1,500 with a 6-pound, 27½-inch bruiser; Abraham Hatch of Damariscotta, $500, a 5.35-pound, 25½-incher; and Heiko Nichols of Hartland, $250 for a 4.76-pound, 24-incher.
Glenn Hanna of Augusta won the grand door prize of a camping and angling package from Coleman.
The rest of the winners, including the 163 anglers who earned merchandise in the fish pool, will be listed at www.mooseheadlake.org over the next few days.
Demos on tap at ride-in
Hundreds of snowmobile enthusiasts will head to Newport this weekend for the Pine Tree Ride-In, which serves as a fundraiser for the Pine Tree Camp.
Barbecues, radar runs, the always-popular egg run and other events are on tap.
On Wednesday I spoke with Scott Hanscom, a representative of Yamaha’s snowmobile division, who said his company will be on hand to show off some new sleds.
Hanscom said six 2009 models will be on hand, and staffers will be happy to take sledders on a demo ride.
Two Apex sleds will be available, as will a Vector, a Venture GT, a Phazer RTX and a Nitro XTX.
“We’re all four-strokes. What we’re promoting is what we call the Yamaha advantage,” Hanscom said. “[We’re] No. 1 in reliability, fuel economy and low emissions, based on data we were able to get from American Snowmobiler magazine.”