Fishing at Branch Lake may increase

Posted Feb. 12, 2010, at 6:10 p.m.

Wednesday’s editions of this paper carried some welcome news for many area anglers (like me) who’ve lamented the loss of one of their local lakes in recent years.

OK. “Loss” may a bit of an overstatement. The lake hasn’t gone anywhere, after all.

But I’m certain that the number of anglers on Branch Lake in Ellsworth has decreased over the past nine years due to a situation that finally seems to have been solved.

Branch Lake, you may recall, hasn’t been stocked by the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife for years, after the boat ramp at Hanson’s Landing, which was preferred by many fishermen, was sold and subsequently closed.

The DIF&W has a policy of not stocking waters where day-use visitors don’t have equitable access to the lake that is enjoyed by lakeside residents.

According to previously published BDN reports, Hanson’s Landing closed in 1999, and over the ensuing years some lake dwellers and the city of Ellsworth have balked at allowing the DIF&W and the Maine Department of Conservation to develop a new landing.

A top concern: Boaters might transfer invasive plants like milfoil into the lake, which serves as Ellsworth’s water supply.

But on Monday, the Ellsworth City Council voted to approve an agreement with the state that many anglers will applaud.

According to that agreement, the Maine Department of Conservation will build a new boat launch near an existing state beach on the lake, and the city of Ellsworth will manage the facility and have control over inspecting boats for invasive plants.

Back in 2001, then-regional fisheries biologist Ron Brokaw was quoted as saying the fishing pressure on Branch Lake dropped from 2,800 anglers during the summer of 1995 to just 1,500 anglers in the year after Hanson’s Landing was closed.

The anglers were frustrated … and they stayed away.

Gregory Burr, a DIF&W fisheries biologist who has monitored the situation and tried to facilitate a new boat landing for more than a decade, said the Ellsworth decision was gratifying.

“It’s been a long road,” Burr said. “Each side had to make some concessions, and through the process we’ve both done that.”

Among the concessions from the state’s point of view: The actual location of the boat launch, the location and construction of an access road, and allowing city management of the facility.

Burr said a couple more hurdles remain, including having the Ellsworth Planning Board remove a city ordinance that banned building any boat launch facilities on Branch Lake, and obtaining the necessary state and local permits.

I’ve spent many enjoyable hours trolling Branch Lake, and can say that I’m among those who haven’t returned to the lake after Hanson’s Landing closed more than a decade ago.

I miss putting around near the rocks locals call “The Cow and The Calf,” waiting for the telltale tug of a togue or landlocked salmon.

Count me among the anglers who applaud the hard work that city and state officials have put in to solve this issue.

And count me among those who look forward to a long-awaited return trip to one of our region’s special lakes.

Schoodic derby on tap

Forgive the late notice, but DIF&W regional fisheries biologist Gordon “Nels” Kramer checked in this week to remind me that a popular annual fishing derby is going on this weekend … if you hurry, you can still get in some good fishing.

The 48th annual Schoodic Lake Ice Fishing Derby, sponsored by the Milo Fire Department, is taking place today and Sunday on Schoodic, Ebeemee and Seboeis lakes.

A total of $14,000 in prizes is up for grabs.

The derby has the kind of format I prefer: You don’t have to catch the big one to cash in big. In fact, just registering a fish enters you in the drawing for some great prizes.

Catch nothing, and you still could drive away on the top shore prize, an Arctic Cat ATV.

In fact, those winning shore prizes will take home the bulk of the loot: $9,300 worth of goods. Seven lucky winners in the registered fish pool will win prizes worth a total of $2,500, and those whose angling expertise results in them hooking large fish will split a pool of $1,105 for their efforts.

Wildlife park earns honor

Visitors to the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray can tell you that adults and kids alike love walking along the paths, watching native Maine critters, and learning about the habitat and management of the animals that live among us.

Gov. John Baldacci recently recognized the park with the “Commitment to Tourism Growth” award during his 2010 Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

The Maine Wildlife Park is operated by the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife.

The governor’s award recognizes an outstanding company, organization or person that not only strives to grow its business but works with others within the industry to grow tourism in Maine.

According to a DIF&W news release, the Maine Wildlife Park hosted more than 102,000 visitors in 2009, which was an increase of nine percent over the previous year.

Congratulations to park employees and volunteers for a well-deserved nod from the governor.

Saddleback plans vacation treats

As far as I’m concerned, you don’t need much of an excuse to spend a day at a local ski area, making some turns and enjoying the Maine winter.

If a resort does want to give you an extra excuse to stop by? Well, that’s fine with me.

That’s exactly what staffers at Saddleback in Rangeley are doing next week, as they’ll be serving crepes and beverages from a heated tent throughout the school vacation.

That’s right, crepes.

Warren Cook, the resort’s CEO and general manager, said in a news release that the idea is well-founded and has proven popular with skiers in other parts of the world.

“Crepes have long been a European tradition at ski lodges and we wanted to add something fun and special for this busy vacation week,” Cook said in the release.

The crepes will come with several different fillings and will be on sale between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. The cost: Just $3.

The crepe tent won’t be the only attraction at Saddleback, according to Cook.

“This February vacation will be the first time many people will have a chance to check out our new 44-acre glade, Casablanca, the half-wall in the terrain park and Kennebago Station, our new warming yurt at the base of the Kennebago Quad chair lift,” he said.

If you were looking for another reason — or four — to hit the slopes next week, there you go.

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