Legislature lets fall fishing get away

Bruce's big troutFall fishing opportunities, available throughout southern Maine, will continue to be unavailable in the northern half of the state. My bill to extend fall fishing opportunities by one month was hooked and released yesterday by the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.

This bill would have expanded the opportunities to fish in the fall by authorizing October fishing in areas where that is now prohibited, with strict catch-and-release rules that match the rules for September fishing in these areas.


The bill drew strong opposition from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and others, including retired DIF&W fisheries biologist Paul Johnson. While Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Association testified in favor of the bill, most of his testimony was negative, as he expressed concern for the resource. “This will impact our gems,” he said.


Johnson’s testimony included a clever reference to the gospel. “From the Book of Ecclesiastes,” he said, ‘To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.’ I would add to Solomon’s citations that there is a time to fish, and a time to leave fish alone,” said Paul. Yes, even the bible was used against me!


Quite a few years ago, when I was at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, we successfully championed fall fishing in Maine. The Fish and Wildlife Department opposed it, and Paul Johnson even said we’d get fall fishing for wild trout over his dead body. I was delighted to note, after fall fishing was established, that he was still alive! And I have to say that Paul, in his 35 year career at DIF&W, did a wonderful job. It was really good to see him yesterday.


Paul joined Francis Brautigam of DIF&W and Jeff Reardon of Trout Unlimited in expressing concern that, in October, we would be fishing over spawning fish, and stepping on their eggs. I  have to admit this was very compelling testimony.


I am an avid September angler, both in the Rangeley region and up at my camp west of Baxter Park, catching great fish as they swim up our rivers, streams, and brooks to spawn. Unfortunately, with the warming climate, last year’s September fishing was terrible. The water was not flowing and was very hot. DIF&W even issued a press release urging us not to fish.


On my favorite brook in Baxter Park, you could step over the water. At my Mount Vernon home, the stream that passes my house actually stopped flowing – a first in our 38 years there.


I had one other reason to propose this change. Last year Down East Books published my book on Maine sporting camps. It’s kind of a sad story. We’ve gone from over 300 traditional sporting camps to about 3 dozen.


These traditional camps are the ones that have a lodge serving food and cabins for their customers to sleep in. I had to expand the definition to include some that are just housekeeping cabins, Huts and Trails, and others. I ended up with 80 places in the book. But right now, 14 of the 16 sporting camps in Washington County are for sale. Clearly, these camps need our help.


I asked all of the camp owners what their greatest challenges are, and I got an earful. But right at the top of the list was the loss of hunters and anglers. I am sorry to report that Maine is no longer a destination for hunters and anglers. There are a lot of great places to hunt and fish, and we are no longer competitive.


This bill would have given some help to sporting camps, by allowing them to offer the traditional “cast and blast” weeks in October, when guests can both fish and hunt grouse.


But when the IFW Committee accepted, immediately following the hearing, an ought-not-to-pass motion, and Senate Chair Scott Cyrway asked for a vote of all those in favor of the ought-not-to-pass motion, all committee members, and lots of people in the audience, raised their hand. Including me.


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.