Shocking decline in northern Maine angling

I was astonished earlier this week to be on a northern Maine lake that once drew lots of anglers, and to see only a handful of anglers in two days.

I guess it should not have surprised me, because I recently read Jeremiah Wood’s report about a sharp decline in northern Maine angler use between 1996 and 2016. Wood is a fisheries biologist with Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

And his compelling and concerning report should be read by all of you. This is why many of our sporting camps are struggling. There are lots of great places to fish in North America, and Maine is no longer on many of those lists.

Wood’s Report

In the abstract of his research report, Wood states, “Understanding angler use and associated fishing pressure is critical to the proper development of fisheries management strategies. We computed estimates of open-water angler use on major lakes and ponds in the Fish, Allagash and upper Aroostook watersheds using flight count data from the mid-1990s and 2010s.

“Results showed a striking decline in angler use on most waters over the study period, which mirrors demographic trends and is consistent with anecdotal observations. This lower level of angler use highlights the need to reconsider the effectiveness and necessity of current fishing regulations, and the potential to explore options that might better manage fisheries and encourage more angler use in northern Maine.”

Boy, did he get that right!

They could start by embracing my legislative attempts to restore the agency’s marketing position. DIF&W killed both bills in the last two legislative sessions. And we’ve been battling constantly to get them to put more money into research, management, and protection of our native brook trout, most of which exist in western and northern Maine.

I’m not going to name the lake I mentioned at the beginning of this column, but local anglers told me the brook trout population is greatly diminished and they now have bass in the lake, very bad news indeed.

While Wood’s report focuses on several northern Maine waters, he also reported, “In addition to our data, information collected from other area sources showed similar trends in declining angler use.”

Complicated Rules

I thought this information in Wood’s report was especially interesting: “It behooves state agencies to promote increased recreational use of fish and wildlife resources due to its tie to funding for conservation efforts.” I guess I should have asked Wood to speak at the hearings on my marketing bills!

Wood also reported, “In the aforementioned study of activities that compete with recreational fishing (Responsive Management and Southwick Associates 2012), several recommendations were made to improve fishing participation. These included emphasizing the fun of fishing, increasing convenience, and encouraging anglers to invite their friends to fish with them.

“Locally, many anglers complain that fishing regulations are too complicated and difficult to understand, and they aren’t able to take home enough fish to make it worth their trip. Though this is not a national pattern, making changes to fishing regulations and promoting fishing as a simpler, more enjoyable activity may help increase angling activity in northern Maine.”

And he noted, “Recently MDIFW has directed a focus toward simplifying fishing regulations and presenting the fishing law book in a more user friendly format. These efforts will continue in the coming years.”

Don’t hold your breath for the department to actually simplify fishing rules. I don’t agree with some of Wood’s conclusions about how to expand the number of anglers fishing these waters, but I do appreciate his work and his report.

You can – and should – read Wood’s entire report, which you can access here.


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,, 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.