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If you’re an avid angler, you may think that there’s no such thing as a lake with too many fish in it.
If you’re a fisheries biologist, you know that’s not true. And that’s why state biologists in the Moosehead Lake region are preparing for the second annual Chesuncook Lake Salmon Derby on Memorial Day weekend: They simply need to reduce the number of voracious landlocked salmon swimming around in the lake.
Tim Obrey, the regional fisheries biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Region E, explained the department’s rationale.
“The lake simply has too many salmon and growth is suffering. At one time, this lake produced some of the largest salmon in the Moosehead Lake region,” Obrey said in a fisheries report. “The fall fishing in the West Branch of the Penobscot River between Chesuncook Lake and Seboomook Lake was awesome, with many fish in the three- to six-pound range.”
Not any more.
That’s why biologists have teamed up with the Natural Resource Education Center at Moosehead to promote a derby designed to remove as many small salmon as possible from Chesuncook. Chesuncook is a massive piece of water — the third-largest lake in the state at more than 25,000 acres. It’s located northwest of Millinocket.
Maine’s general law specifies a 14-inch minimum for landlocked salmon caught in lakes, with a two-fish daily limit. On Chesuncook, the regulations are much more liberal in order to cull fish from the population and increase the growth rate of those that remain. The rules that apply on Chesuncook, including attached Moose Pond, Caribou Lake and Ripogenus Lake: No size or bag limit on salmon less than 16 inches in length, and a one-fish daily bag limit on fish longer than 16 inches.
This approach isn’t without precedent: Back in 2008, the DIF&W teamed up with the NREC to form the Moosehead Lake Togue Derby with Ricky Craven, an ice-fishing effort to remove small lake trout from the state’s largest lake because of an identical concern: Too many fish were vying for insufficient food.
Over the course of the derby’s first three years, when anglers anglers helped turn the tide. Earlier this year Obrey said that a liberal new rule and the derby resulted in 80,000 small lake trout being removed from Moosehead, and 10,000 to 15,000 larger lakers also being removed. That helped put the lake in better balance, and growth rates have increased.
That’s the hope on Chesuncook, and derby attendees can help jumpstart the effort May 25 and 26.
“The trophy fish are few and far between, but we hope the new liberal regulation and the creation of the Chesuncook Lake Salmon Derby, both implemented last year, will help us turn the corner,” Obrey said. “We’re actually in a better situation than we were at Moosehead Lake. We are still seeing good runs of smelt in some of the tributaries to Chesuncook Lake and there are still some healthy looking fish. We just need to bump up the harvest for a few years.”
According to Obrey, last year’s inaugural derby drew 62 entrants who combined to register 180 salmon at the weigh station.
Details of the derby:
The angler who catches the largest salmon will win $500. Additionally, each registered fish smaller than 16 inches will earn the angler a ticket that will be entered into a drawing for a variety of prizes, and one of those anglers will also win $500.
Tickets are available at Indian Hill Trading Post in Greenville, Two Rivers Canoe and Tackle in Medway, Allagash Gateway Campground at Chesuncook Lake or at NRECmoosehead.org.