By Regional Fisheries Biologist Gregory Burr
Jim Hogan, Beech Hill Pond – 37 ½ inches, 22 pounds
For years, many of the famed trophy lake trout (also known as “togue”) waters Downeast languished in small fish obscurity. Lakes like West Grand, West Musquash, Tunk, Branch and the current lake trout state record holder, Beech Hill Pond, all at one time in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s produced lunkers on a regular basis. But then due to a variety of reasons (likely including changes in angler use, advancements in fishing technology and tactics, and changes in lake trout harvest rates) many of these leviathans of the deep disappeared. These waters were only occasionally producing fish over ten pounds, mainly because most of the slightly larger fish in the population were harvested before they could become “trophies”.
Ryan Bridges, Tunk Lake, 41 inches, 25 pounds
Fast forward to 2014 when biologists in the Grand Lakes Region set up a plan to resurrect the trophy lake trout management for the above waters by using a no-harvest slot limit. These slot limits, restrict anglers from keeping fish between 23 and 33 inches, thereby allowing the bigger fish in the population to be protected and grow to trophy sizes. For this to happen, the Department had to be aggressive with liberal bag limits under 23 inches, while encouraging anglers to harvest many of these smaller fish. This approach to “thin-out” the population of smaller individuals and put the total population in balance, allows the smelt forage to blossom and feed these would-be trophies. One of the reasons why this strategy has been successful is because of the cooperation of many of the winter ice fishing derby organizers agreeing to place a lake trout harvest management category in their events. This gave anglers cash incentives to harvest togue on specific waters where it fit with management goals and objectives, and reinforced the importance of keeping smaller lake trout. This has also allowed other cold-water game species to benefit as the smelt forage increased. Landlocked salmon for example have shown improved growth and condition overall at Branch Lake, Tunk Lake and Beech Hill Pond. Now, the occasional yearly report of a large lake trout being caught has been replaced by an almost weekly news flash of excitement over trophy fish being landed on these lakes. Cell phones are a buzz with texts of pictures of large fish and social media pages light up with proud anglers displaying their catches.
The take home message to many lake trout anglers is before you throw back those small lakers, remember how we got to where we are and to harvest some of those smaller fish, as the rest will grow bigger for you to catch as a fish of a lifetime down the road!