State biologists are urging trout and salmon fishermen to go easy on the fish as this summer’s hot, dry conditions put additional stress on the cold-water species.

Streams throughout the southern two-thirds of Maine are running extremely low – and warm – because of the drought. As a result, species such as brook trout and landlocked salmon that require cooler, better-oxygenated water to survive are seeking out deeper pools, shady tributaries or spring holes in ponds, making themselves more vulnerable to predators. Temperature-stressed fish also are more susceptible to harm or death when they are caught and handled by fishermen.

On Friday, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife recommended that anglers fish earlier or later in the day, when temperatures are cooler, quickly catch and release fish, and use barbless hooks for faster release.

“Many of our cold-water species, such as brook trout, they don’t tolerate elevated water temperatures very well, so the combination of elevated temperatures and reduced stream flow over a long period of time created concern,” said Francis Brautigam, director of fisheries for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “So we wanted people to be aware that fish are stressed.”

The advisory on fish comes two months after the department urged Mainers to take precautions to avoid attracting bears to their homes or businesses because dry weather conditions had reduced the berry crop.

Rains on Friday and projected for this weekend will likely dump some much-needed water into Maine’s rivers and streams, but those storms are unlikely to end the drought conditions. On Thursday, stream flow levels for a swath of Maine stretching from the Jackman area to the midcoast and back up toward the Katahdin region were classified as being in “extreme hydrologic drought” by the U.S. Geological Survey. Streams throughout much of the rest of the state, meanwhile, were classified as being in a “severe hydrologic drought,” comparing the flow to the historic average for that day.


Jeff Reardon, Maine brook trout project director with Trout Unlimited, pointed out that stream flow monitors in some parts of Maine were showing levels near or below the levels witnessed during the 2001-02 drought, which was the most severe in a half-century in Maine. During that drought, 17,000 Maine homeowners’ wells ran dry and farmers suffered tens of millions of dollars in crop losses.

Reardon said many fly fishermen typically take August off because rivers and streams often run low and warm. That’s particularly important this year, he said.

“My view is, this is a good time of year to go striper fishing or go bass fishing,” said Reardon, who planned to go striper fishing in the cooler, ocean waters because even the larger rivers were warm.

Maine is famed for its brook trout and landlocked salmon, with the state accounting for 97 percent of the wild Eastern brook trout waters remaining in the United States, according to Trout Unlimited. A recent study by the Maine Office of Tourism estimated that freshwater fishing generated $319 million in revenue in 2013, and that more than 60 percent of Maine residents who hold fishing licenses prefer brook trout.

As a warm-water species, smallmouth and largemouth bass – two other popular recreation fishing species in Maine – are less susceptible to the higher water temperatures being seen in Maine but can still be subject to increased predation when pond or lake levels drop.

The good news for brook trout, both Reardon and Brautigam said, is that it’s a fairly short-lived species that quickly rebounds.


“This will be a year when (brook) trout survival is very, very low,” Reardon said. “If it’s only a year and production next year is pretty good, we probably won’t see much of an impact.”

And it’s not just stream-dwelling trout and landlocked salmon that are at risk from the drought and heat.

Brautigam noted that a fish hooked at a depth of 40 feet or lower in one of Maine’s many cold, deep lakes could experience as much as a 35-degree temperature difference by the time it is hauled up to the warmer waters near the surface. That can put added stress on the fish, he said.

Reardon said that he would like to see Maine consider following the example of Montana or other states that close waters to fishing, or restrict angling activity to specific hours, during periods of drought or intense heat.

Brautigam said while the department would discuss such steps if the drought became even more severe, he personally questioned whether such restrictions would be useful.

“Mother Nature is going to have a larger role to play (than fishermen) in determining the fate of these fish,” Brautigam said. “A lot of people don’t go out (fishing) this time of year because of the concern that the fish are stressed, so I think there are a lot of passive or voluntary actions being taken by anglers.”


Of course, fish aren’t the only critters feeling the heat from the drought.

Maine wildlife officials had received 625 bear nuisance complaints so far this year, nearly double the 349 received by the same date in 2015. The drought is believed to the biggest single factor in that spike because of a poorer crop of the wild berries that normally account for a substantial portion of a bear’s diet during summer. And not only are bears getting into more garbage or backyard bird feeders, they also are ranging farther in search of food and therefore causing problems in new areas, said Kendall Marden, a wildlife biologist with Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Marden urged homeowners to reduce the likelihood of nuisance encounters with bears by removing outside “attractants” such as garbage cans, food scraps, grills with food waste and bird seed.

Bear hunters could benefit from the situation, however. A poor natural diet often means higher hunter “success rate” during the fall bear hunt because the animals are more drawn to bait used to lure bears, Marden said.


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