This map shows an area of Lily Bay -- between the red line and the blue line -- on Moosehead Lake that is being considered for a winter fishing closure in order to protect shore-spawning brook trout that can be found in the area. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

This is the third of four reports on the thriving brook trout fishery in Moosehead Lake as fisheries biologists consider different management initiatives that would help protect the fishery, including larger shore-spawning trout that may be particularly vulnerable during the winter months.

We have evidence of a few shore-spawning sites for brook trout in the Moosehead Lake. The largest is in the narrows of Lily Bay. It’s hard to put that down in print for fear of seeing anglers flock to the area and devastate these fish, but that horse has left the barn … and has run across state lines. It was a perfect storm of sorts. The number of large shore-spawning fish was on the increase, anglers were able to find them and share their photos, and the road through Lily Bay State Park was now plowed to the shoreline. It was easy access to locations that had concentrations of big brook trout spawning in January.

The numbers are dramatic. We routinely contract with Warden Service to fly the lake and count anglers to estimate total angling use in the winter (this requires a lot of formulas and math and is best saved for another day). The lake is big, and we break it down into different areas. The area around Lily Bay and the narrows has consistently represented around 25 percent of the total angler use on the lake, with the total winter use for the entire lake in the 12,000 angler-day range. So that represented about 3,000 days of fishing in this area … but that was before Mr. Ed crossed into Portsmouth.

In 2018, we saw an uptick in use in Lily Bay. There were no Moosehead flights in 2019, but we were on the ice and could see a significant increase in angler activity. In 2020, fishing pressure in the Lily Bay narrows went through the roof. The percent of anglers-days in the Lily Bay area jumped from 25 percent to 45 percent of the total lake-wide use. That’s scary enough, but now many more anglers are coming to the lake to try to land a trophy trout. Winter use in 2020 nearly doubled and was estimated at 23,000 angler-days. So, we went from an estimated 3,000 angler-days in this area to 10,300 angler-days, and most of that fishing pressure was concentrated right on top of these big fish in the narrows. We estimated more than 500 brook trout between 20 and 25 inches went down Route 15 in the winters of 2019 and 2020 and most of them in January when some lake spawning may still be occurring. It’s just not sustainable.

Moosehead Lake has several large areas that are closed to fishing to protect post-spawning wild brook trout. Spencer Bay was closed in 1939 after anglers caught a large number of brook trout that were over-wintering after spawning in the Roach River. Socatean Bay was closed in the late 1950s after Roger Auclair’s tagging studies on Socatean Stream demonstrated large concentrations of post-spawning trout were located just a short distance from the mouth of the stream. Based on lots of head scratching and discussions, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is now proposing another area closure to protect these large shore-spawning fish concentrated in the Lily Bay narrows. The northern boundary is a line just south of Porcupine Point to Laker Point. The southern boundary is a line from Sugar Island, just west of Dollar Island, to the Lily Bay State Park boundary.

For more information on the regulations packet and to learn how to provide your comments, please visit maine.gov.

Tim Obrey is the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s regional fisheries supervisor for the Moosehead Lake Region.