Here’s the good news. In my lifetime, trout and salmon fishing in Maine has improved — not a lot but enough to notice.

Sure, places such as the Shawmut Stretch of the Kennebec, Sheepscot River between Sheepscot Pond and Route 105 and Long Pond in the Belgrade Lakes have taken a nosedive, but fishing quality in other waters has nudged ahead or at least held steady.

One quick example of better fishing involves brook trout. During my teens, I would show off 12-inch brook trout at Hussey’s General Store, and folks would oh and ah over them.

In 2012, even 16-inch brook trout from many lakes and ponds don’t raise eyebrows, particularly with serious, skillful anglers. No one catches brookies this size every day, but as a general rule, one is possible on any cast from many waters. A 12-inch pond brookie is OK but not one to show off.

Here’s the bad news, though. I seldom experience salmonid fishing in Maine that compares to a typical day of fishing in other places across this continent and south of it. My travels have taken me to storied fishing spots such as the subarctic, Maritimes, Midwest, American West and mid-Atlantic states — quite a sampling.

And to bang my point home about fishing quality, please consider this: I have fished for browns, rainbows and brookies in Tennessee and North Carolina, not exactly what folks imagine as trout meccas. The general overall fishing proved better than most of my fishing days in this state.

In the mid-Atlantic states, I have fished crystal-clear mountain streams flowing through one of the world’s most astounding array of tree species. Nearly every bend offered a calendar-photo scene and scrappy trout.

Here’s the kicker, too. I had no guide and darned little info on where to go. I just blundered around the mountains and caught trout.

Granted, Maine has a huge strike against it. With the exception of portions of York and Waldo counties and the limestone belt in Aroostook, we have extremely sterile water, and even these three examples of fertile regions wouldn’t win prizes against — say parts of Pennsylvania.

Because of the sterile water and limited trout production, Maine needs strict regulations, and to be honest, compared to other places, we actually do have strict regulations — say lots of fly-fishing-only waters.

Until a year ago, we had strict bag limits, too, but that changed when the daily bag limit increased drastically from five to 13 salmonids, the 13 depending on what part of the state you fish.

Maine’s fishing public disagrees with the recent increased limit, too. In “The Maine Sportsman” magazine’s 2011 survey, 66 percent of the participants disapproved of this new law.

When I bring this change up to some people, many make an incredibly misleading statement. They say no one could possibly catch the 13 salmonid limit, which would consist of brookies (includes splake and arctic char), salmon, browns, rainbows and togue. In short, the hard part of landing 13 salmonids is catching all five (to seven) species in one day.

Here’s a cold fact, though. Anglers may have problems catching all 13 fish in the legal limit, but they wouldn’t have problems catching more than the old 5-fish daily salmonid limit. Many Maine waters have brookies and salmon and some have browns, rainbows and brookies, so we have ample opportunity to keep seven or nine fish on each outing instead of five.

Also, I feel positive that some people in Maine could catch 13 fish in a day if they worked at it, particularly skilled trollers with sewn bait. They wouldn’t do it every day, but they’d limit out on occasion. Some of them would kill the catch, too, because it’s legal.

When this daily limit changed, it occurred with barely a whimper from the fishing public. Where was the outrage? At least one organization harps on producing big fish, but to achieve that goal, angler can’t kill more than a water can produce.

For this state to flourish as a fishing destination as it once did before the U.S. population exploded, creating more anglers, we need smaller bag limits, stricter regs, more catch-and-release education, more habitat improvement and outdoors leaders with a clear vision for the future.

For me, the last dozen years produced a visible fisheries decline:

For example, in late September 12 years ago, I caught a 16-inch brookie in the Sheepscot, the clone of myriad brookies that season. While releasing that last 16-incher of the year in this river, a thought struck me. In the past few months, the Sheepscot had produced more brookies in that size range than I had caught in this river during my entire life. Sure, other places produced better brookies, but I’m talking this one central Maine river.

That thought about 16-inch brookies filled me with glee. I said softly to myself, “It’s just getting better every year.”

In 2012, I lack that optimism.


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