Goodbye Salmon Hello Rainbow Trout

Landlocked salmon Kennebec River Angler“Once noted as one of the top salmon waters in Maine, it’s now rare for a salmon to survive for more than one year in Long Pond,” wrote Jason Seiders, DIF&W Regional Fisheries Biologist. I can only add, boy, did I enjoy catching big salmon at this beautiful pond, part of the Belgrade Lakes and just ten minutes from my house.

Then illegal and/or inadvertent stocking of other nonnative and invasive species, from pike to landlocked alewives, ruined the salmon fishery and crowded out other cold water species like brook trout. Today, smallmouth bass is the most popular fishery in Long Pond.

Fisheries biologists from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife have been documenting the demise of Long Pond’s salmon fishery. A recent report from biologists Wes Ashe, Jason Seiders, and Scott Davis noted that Long Pond was “once nationally renowned as a ‘destination’ salmon fishery with fish up to 8 pounds.” From 1985 to 1999, biologists trap netting the lake caught an average of 74 salmon a year. From 2000 to 2012, only 5 salmon a year were captured in the trap nets, all of them small.

Die-hard salmon anglers still try to catch those fish in Long Pond, but it now takes 8 times longer to catch a salmon as it does a bass. And those salmon, according to biologist, “No longer survive in Long Pond.” Soon after they are stocked, they are caught or they die.

Because landlocked alewives have taken over the lake, the smelts that salmon depend on are nearly gone. In that report, the biologists reported that a “smelt extirpation is possible.” Perhaps a memorial service for smelts and salmon would be appropriate now.

Rainbow Trout

Looking to the future, the biologists are hosting meetings with sporting camps – including John Rice at Castle Island Camps who is very involved in this issue and who keeps me informed about it – anglers, residents, and town officials, to consider what can be done.

The biologists are recommending that we start stocking rainbow trout which will feed on the alewives. This seems reasonable to me, although I am deeply saddened by the end of what was once a premier salmon fishery. Rainbows could be stocked in Long Pond by the fall of 2016, and I suppose I will fish for them soon after that. I’ve enjoyed Rainbow trout fishing in Montana.

John Rice of Castle Island Camps, a wonderful set of sporting camps on Long Pond, many of whose guests focus on smallmouth bass fishing, is excited about the proposal. Here’s what he told me:

I love it. We have been discussing what to do for the last three years. Biologists have taken their time to come and discuss their ideas and research with guests several times the last couple of years. A lot of hard work went into making the decision to move from a salmon fishery to rainbow trout. We’re excited. Bass guys changed 30 years ago to catch and release. The results are all positive for the bass. After 20 years of poor salmon fishing, the results are in, time to move on.   Rainbows will offer something you can’t get in every other lake in Maine. Last thing we needed was another brown trout fishery.   Hope it is a successful fishery for years to come.

Me too!

Changes Needed at Long Pond in Belgrade

by Jason Seiders, Regional Fisheries Biologist, Belgrade Lakes Region

Our fisheries staff has spent a significant amount of time in recent years studying Long Pond in Belgrade. While we wish we were studying a robust and thriving landlocked salmon population, just the opposite is true. While attempting to capture and examine landlocked salmon, we find that a plethora of invasive fish species has replaced the iconic salmon that made Long Pond famous. Once noted as one of the top salmon waters in Maine, it’s now rare for a salmon to survive for more than one year in Long Pond.

Most people are familiar with the illegal introduction of northern pike in the Belgrade Lakes, and how that has taken its toll on the lakes’ traditional trout and salmon fisheries. Another, perhaps lesser known invader has contributed to a severe decline in Long Pond’s rainbow smelt population (a salmon’s primary food source), and has caused irreversible damage. Landlocked alewives were first discovered in Long Pond in the 1990’s, and their population has exploded.

Don’t confuse landlocked alewives with our native sea-run alewives. Sea-run alewives are generally beneficial to the systems they inhabit and they contribute to our ocean fisheries. Unlike sea-run alewives, landlocked alewives never leave the lakes they inhabit; they live out their entire life within the same freshwater lake system. They are very prolific and out-compete rainbow smelt for food and habitat. Landlocked alewives have almost completely replaced smelt as the primary forage fish in Long Pond, which puts salmon at a complete disadvantage compared to other fish species.

Fishes such as bass, pike, perch, and chain pickerel all thrive on landlocked alewives, but unfortunately salmon do not. The fisheries staff in the Belgrade Lakes Region has investigated all available options pertaining to trout stocking in Long Pond, and one option seems best given the conditions we now face: rainbow trout. Numerous other states have great success managing rainbow trout in lakes with landlocked alewives. In fact, biologists in those states depend upon landlocked alewives as the primary food source for supporting their rainbow trout populations.

Since this is such a dramatic change to our local fishery, we will be holding a public informational meeting this summer to discuss this and other potential changes in an attempt to improve Long Pond’s coldwater sport fishery. While we know that exotic fish species have forever changed the fishery in Long Pond, we are hopeful that we can utilize a different trout species that might actually benefit from one of these invaders. Ultimately, our goal is to produce a trout fishery that will once again draw anglers to the Belgrade Lakes.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.