April 26, 2018
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Of birds and brook trout

By George Smith, Special to the BDN

Birds and brook trout define my Maine, Ted Koffman’s Maine, and Chandler Woodcock’s Maine too.

Wading down Nesowadnehunk Stream on the edge of Baxter Park one morning to reach a favorite pool full of colorful brook trout, I heard the familiar song of a yellow-throated warbler.

Since adding birding to my outdoor adventures, I always have binoculars strapped to my chest. But as I glanced to the right looking for the warbler, the binoculars weren’t needed. The bird was in a low bush right on the edge of the stream.

Wading slowly toward the bush, I was astonished that the bird stayed put, moving from branch to branch, taking no interest in the approaching angler. For 10 glorious minutes, I was blessed with a close-up look at a creature that defines my faith.

I’ve often said that only God could have produced anything as beautiful as a Maine brook trout. You can add warblers to that list.

Maine Audubon’s executive director, Ted Koffman, became a brook trout champion during his eight years in the Maine Legislature, where I got to know and work with him when I served as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

Ted sponsored a SAM bill to expand protection for wild and native brook trout. Thanks to legislators like Ted, in recent years Maine has stepped up protection of its native brookies, important when you understand that this state has 97 percent of all the remaining native brook trout in the United States.

The new commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Chandler Woodcock, when he served in the Maine Senate, successfully sponsored the very first legislation to recognize and protect our native brook trout in waters that have never been stocked.

Think about this. These are the progeny of the trout our ancestors caught.

Now, Ted and Chandler and their respective organizations, Maine Audubon and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, along with Trout Unlimited, are partnering to document wild brook trout populations in remote Maine ponds — the same trout and ponds that Chandler and Ted worked to protect when they served as legislators.

And they need your help. Volunteer anglers can choose one or more of Maine’s brook trout ponds that have never been stocked and therefore contain Maine’s native, wild trout.

IF&W’s fisheries biologists will follow up the angler surveys with more formal surveys in future years. Volunteers will get maps, photos, data sheets and instructions for how to survey each pond.

I loved the description of what they’re looking for in a volunteer: “Volunteers should be enthusiastic about fishing for brook trout, be comfortable in remote settings and have a sense of adventure.” I’m in!

Surveys can be done any time before Sept. 30, although they prefer June and July. Audubon’s Emily Bastian, herself an avid angler, is coordinating the project, and you should contact her to volunteer, at 781-6180 ext. 207 or ebastian@maineaudubon.org.

It’s obvious why Chandler and I are brook trout fanatics. We both love to fly fish and target some of our storied waters in the Rangeley region.

But some may wonder why Maine Audubon has taken an interest in brook trout. After all, they are the state’s leading environmental organization with a well-known focus on birds.

Ted wrote a wonderful column in 2007 for the Bangor Daily News about chestnuts and trout, noting, “The goal to restore the American chestnut tree to its rightful place in the forest may actually be less daunting than the prospect of restoring the Eastern brook trout range once it’s degraded and invaded.”

You see, it’s all about habitat. That’s what unites birders and brook trout anglers. And that’s what makes me a member of Maine Audubon and a participant in this exciting project.

George Smith is the former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

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