State fisheries biologist Frank Frost gave northern Maine anglers one more reason to fish an already popular Aroostook County lake last week, as he and a colleague hauled in a lake trout he estimated at 25 pounds while doing research.
“It was a really cool experience to handle a fish that big. It was the biggest togue I’ve handled, by far,” said Frost, who serves as the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s fisheries resource supervisor for the Fish River Lakes Region.
Frost, who has worked for the department for more than 25 years, was working on Eagle Lake in the town of Eagle Lake.That distinction is important, because Maine has several lakes that share that name. Some social media reports on the fish have assumed the lake trout, or “togue,” as Mainers often call the species, came from the Eagle Lake that’s part of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway instead.
Those reports were incorrect: This Eagle Lake is part of the Fish River Chain of Lakes, and is home to substantial togue, landlocked salmon and brook trout, which makes it a popular target for anglers.
Frost said the fish was measured at 38 inches long. Comparisons to similar-sized togue led him to the weight estimate, though he said the fish may have weighed two pounds more or less than that.
Frost said that he and a colleague have been deploying trap nets according to a Summer Profundal Index Netting protocol, or SPIN, which helps biologists determine how many legal-length lake trout are in a given water. For more than two weeks, the biologists set the nets for short, two-hour intervals, at depths that lake trout are likely to inhabit, 30 to 90 feet.
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Then they haul in the nets and record their catch, looking for fish that are longer than 12 inches.
“It gives us a whole bunch of population characteristics so we have a good snapshot of what the population looks like right now [including] age structure, size structure,” Frost said. “It’s an intensive month of work, but I think it’s going to be valuable in the future [in helping inform management decisions].”
Based on last year’s field work on the same water, Frost thinks there are about 4,200 legal-sized togue swimming in Eagle Lake.
And a few monsters.
Frost said catching a fish so large on July 23 was an unexpected treat.
“We know that they’re in there, but to get them in this sampling is a little bit surprising,” he said. “It’s a little bit suggestive that there are probably more big ones there than we think.”
As you might expect, local anglers were excited to see photos of the fish.
“[The news has] been well-received. [The lake] has a big following of people who know that there’s big togue there. And it’s been producing big togue for a very long time,” Frost said. “But I don’t want this capture to overshadow what Eagle Lake is really all about. And right now, we’re finding with our research that there’s a pretty large number of 5- to 10-pound togue there that are really fun to catch. An experienced angler can go there and really expect to catch one or more of those in a day.”
In fact, biologists think Eagle Lake has too many togue in it, and in order to reduce the number of mouths that have to be fed by a limited forage base, liberal rules have been established to encourage anglers to keep both togue and landlocked salmon.
The daily bag limit on togue is six fish, with no minimum length limit; only one fish per day can exceed 23 inches. And there’s no bag limit on salmon shorter than 14 inches, while only two salmon longer than 14 inches can be kept per day.
And who knows? Maybe a lucky angler will end up tangling with this same monster togue.
Yes, it’s still swimming.
“The good thing is, this one was released. It was in great shape, it wasn’t in the net very long, and it immediately went down [toward the bottom of the lake],” Frost said.
Eagle Lake has long had a reputation as a good place to catch big lake trout. Back in 2012, the BDN detailed the efforts of fisherman Bruno Doucette, who hauled a 21.2-pound togue out of the lake. And when the popular Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby is staged on several northern lakes each winter, Eagle Lake often produces the winning lake trout.
This has been quite a summer for togue news, as the 62-year-old state record for the species fell earlier this month when an Andover man caught a 39.2-pounder while fishing Lower Richardson Lake.