Bob Mallard is a well-known advocate for Maine’s native fish. He once owned a fly shop in Skowhegan, and he’s now a popular speaker and outdoor writer. There were times Bob hated me, and others when we worked and even fished together. He can be irritating, for sure, in his advocacy, but he’s also a guy who doesn’t give up on his dream of protecting and enhancing Maine’s native brook trout.
We seem to be in a good place now, getting along well, and I’m really impressed with Bob’s writing which is doing a lot of good for our state and its inland fishing industry. I just wrote a chapter on the East Outlet of Moosehead Lake for a book Bob is working on featuring the best places to fly fish in Maine. He’s got a lot of anglers, guides, and outdoor leaders writing chapters in the book. And he contributed a story on Red River Camps for my book on Maine Sporting Camps which Down East Books will publish on May 1. So I thought it would a good time – and fun – to interview Bob and bring you up to date on his work.
Typical of Bob, he even suggested the questions for me to ask! Here’s the interview, pretty much as he outlined it. And let me assure you that these are his views, and his views only.
George: Bob, you have been pretty quiet lately (at least for you). What have you been up to?
Bob: Well, lots. I closed my shop, contributed the ME and MA chapters to a highly visible fly fishing book—50 Best Tailwaters To Fly Fish, released a couple of my own books, and wrote chapters for two other yet to be released books—one on fly fishing our National Parks, and one for your upcoming ME Sporting Camp book. I have done a bunch of writing for national and regional fly fishing magazines and blogs as well. I am also now the Northeast Regional Editor for Fly Fish America magazine, a dual columnist for Southern Trout online magazine, a fly designer for Catch Fly Fishing out of Billings MT, a sales rep for Catch and Stonefly Press—my publisher, and on the R.L. Winston Rod Pro Staff.
George: Let’s start with your shop. Why did you close it?
Bob: Unfortunately it had become clear to me that the middle Kennebec fishery was no longer what it needed to be to support a shop, and not going to be fixed anytime soon. It no longer made sense to tie up the amount of time and money in what had become a marginal fishery with no relief in sight. I am now leasing my building to another and unrelated business. That basically completed the clean sweep of the Kennebec fly shops. Norridgewock, Solon, Fairfield, Farmington, Bath and then Madison are all gone—and one came and went in Bingham as well. A truly sad ending to what was once a really important part of the ME fly fishing scene, the Kennebec that is.
George: What do you think happened to the fishery? It’s been a decade and IFW does not seem to be able fix it.
Bob: Genetics at the hatchery, some questionable species decisions in regard to stocking, incidental mortality due to less than ideal regulations, angler exploitation, invasive bass in the case of Bingham, poaching, etc. The perfect storm. But I still believe that genetics at the hatchery was the primary cause of the failure—at least in regard to the middle and lower river. Had this not happened we may have been able to survive all the other stuff.
George: At one time you were one of the most visible coldwater fishery advocates in the state. You seem to have gone somewhat quiet?
Bob: Only locally… It became obvious that very little was actually getting done and that very little could be done—at least at this time. Again, I needed to weigh my investment against my returns and it no longer made sense to continue putting in the level of effort I had been. One need look no further than the so-called Heritage fish program which provides what is an underwhelming level of protection to Maine’s most unique and arguably valuable fish—wild pond-dwelling brook trout. Even with a clear and concise law to work with, we were unable to get IFW and the legislature to do what the law calls for–get stocking and live bait off all wild brook trout lakes and ponds. Politics and turf trumped science as is unfortunately often the case. That one event told me all I needed to know.
George: What do you mean by “only locally”?
Bob: Well, I have been doing a lot of writing at the regional and national levels. Some of it has involved Maine’s at-risk fish. I wrote about Arctic char, pond-dwelling brook trout and Atlantic salmon in my 50 Best Places Fly Fishing the Northeast book. I also wrote about pond-dwelling brook trout in Fly Fisherman and Fly Fish America magazines—and my upcoming brook trout book which will have a strong conservation message and Foreword by the esteemed Ted Williams. I am writing about Arctic char in TROUT magazine, OrvisNews and New England On The Fly. I am writing about rare sea-run brookies in Eastern Fly Fishing and my brook trout book—including those found on Acadia which are receiving virtually no protection.
George: You seem to be doing a lot of fly fishing destination writing these days. How much of it involves ME?
Bob: The short answer is unfortunately less and less. The reason is twofold. First is that while Maine fishing is flat and even declining in some places, other states have really stepped up. Maine is no longer competing with just the western states for press, it is now competing with the rest of New England as well as the south which may be the hottest thing in fly fishing right now. Second is that as you know, destination writing requires the support of the local business community and in some cases state government to make it work. While I have received great support outside the state, getting help inside the state has been somewhat problematic. I have to go where the fishing is and support is and I can’t afford to waste time trying to force something that isn’t going to happen. I remember we talked a while back about your Maine Sporting Camp book. If I remember correctly, you too were having trouble getting businesses to return calls, emails, etc. I also know of several instances where national fly fishing publishers reached out to Maine businesses in an attempt to do what would have been highly visible and well publicized hosted trips. No one got back to them so they contacted me to see if I could help. In each case I told them that I was having the same problem, so like me they just walked away. And when I first tried to start my Maine book, a fly fishing blogger in the Bangor area called for a boycott of it, and went as far as to threaten to remove the ads of anyone who participated in the book. This kind of stuff doesn’t exactly endear us to the media. I did however recently restart my Maine book, and you are going to be part of it.
George: So where have you been writing about and what is your audience?
Bob: My 50 Best Places Fly Fishing The Northeast book featured waters from NH, VT, MA, CT, RI, PA, NY and NJ—as well as ME. It has been on and off Amazon’s best-selling fishing books list for a year now but has flat-lined a bit recently after a brief surge following the release of my current book—25 Best Towns Fly Fishing For Trout. My just released Towns book features chapters on NH, VT NY, PA, MI, NC, AR, CO, WY, MT, ID, UT, CA, OR and WA—and one about Rangeley ME. I have recently done articles in national fly fishing magazines on North Conway NH, Cotter AR and Grayling MI. I have pieces coming out on Cotter AR, Cody WY, Ennis MT, Califon NJ, Pisgah Forest NC, and there are a few others I am working on as well.
George: So what’s this Southern Trout thing and why are you involved in it?
Bob: Southern Trout is a popular online magazine that covers the area from Greater DC down to FL and west to AR/MO. It is a southern fly fishing & culture publication. I am the only Yankee affiliated it—ever the rebel. The southern fly fishing scene is really hot right now. Large floatable rivers like the White and Norfork in AR, and the South Holston and Watagua in TN are putting up some of the biggest trout in the country today. Smaller rivers such as the Davidson and Raven Fork in NC are some of the best big-fish wading rivers I have fished. They contacted me about writing a gear column—it is a called “Gearhead”. This in turn resulted in me picking up a travel column called “Other Trout” that will feature destinations outside their normal coverage area.
George: And Fly Fish America, what does a Regional Editor do?
Bob: Fly Fish America is one of the largest magazines in fly fishing and has been for years. They print around 50,000 copies and have another 15,000 digital subscribers. To some degree I am responsible for northeast regional content—providing, reviewing, identifying, locating, etc. It also allows me to get articles into the publication on a regular basis—I have two coming out in the next edition, a national piece on brook trout and a feature story on Cotter AR.
George: You’ve been traveling the state presenting a talk and slide show on Maine Brook Trout. I know that you are not using IFW’s “stocked”, “wild” and “native” classifications, but rather your own “stocked”, “previously stocked”, “indirectly stocked”, and “never stocked”. Could you explain why?
Bob: Again, several reasons. First is that the IFW classifications are confusing. In IFW speak “native” means “never stocked”. For many others it simply means “indigenous” or “historically present”. In other cases, people misuse and confuse terms wild and native—like referring to wild landlocked salmon from Moosehead as native even though they were not historically present in the water in question. Most brook trout found in Maine are in fact technically native, even if they have been stocked over or are of stocked origin. Secondly is that IFW appears to be moving away from these terms in favor of Heritage and non-Heritage—and many think the latter means stocked. However, as noted earlier many waters that meet the Heritage requirements were omitted from the list for turf and social reasons—that is to protect inter-species stocking programs, usually salmon over brook trout, and the active use of live bait, mostly associated with ice-fishing. I see this as a slippery slope as it could result in us losing visibility of previously stocked, indirectly stocked, and even never stocked waters that while they should have made the list didn’t.
George: I also noticed that rather than using IFWs “25-years since last stocking” threshold as the criteria for “previously stocked”, you are using 10-years. Why?
Bob: The 25-year criteria are random, arbitrary and not based on science. In fact, 5-year old brookies are pretty rare in Maine, and a 10-year old fish virtually unheard of. So, if a body of water has not been stocked in 10 years and still has brook trout in it, they are in all but extremely rare cases, of wild origin. Even if there were such a fish, their numbers would be so low that the water in question would no longer meet the criteria for a “Principal Fishery”, and therefore it would be ineligible for Heritage designation anyway. In a nutshell, 10-years are a more science-based threshold and still what some might call conservative.
George: So there you have it. I think you will have to admit that Bob’s writing is doing a lot of good for the state, and maybe even admire his commitment to our wild and native brook trout. Hope you enjoyed his interview!