By Paul F. Thibodeau
Protecting Maine's Cold-Water Game Fish
Because I have a deep respect for Maine’s great outdoors, I once again purchased an Atlantic Salmon permit this fall.   The odds of hooking one of those majestic fish along the Penobscot River in the fall are minimal. The State of Maine Department of Maine Resources has had to close the angling for that incredible game fish during the springtime because of their dwindling numbers in recent years. According to a television report, and another that I read on the Internet, there were approximately 30 Atlantic salmon licenses purchased this season to fish the designated fishing area from the Veazie dam to the old Bangor dam site.     

On September 17th I drove into the parking lot at the Veazie Salmon Club, and prepared my rod to fish for an hour or so. It was another unprecedented warm September afternoon as I hiked down the angled trail past the clubhouse.   A light breeze rotated the hand-carved salmon that was attached to the weathervane on the club’s roof.   Only two vehicles were parked near the log cabin that sits on the site where the town dump used to be. It’s astounding how the Atlantic salmon can transform an environment, the local economy, and the people who fish for those majestic game fish.     

Making my way through the underbrush to the rocky shoreline I scanned the river and saw one angler making long, graceful cast from the Eddington shoreline. My mind flashed back to the early 1980s when I’d hooked my first Atlantic salmon on a fly while wading along that fish-abundant pool. That bright salmon rose to inhale a Blue Charm fly, and made an incredible hundred-yard run downstream in seconds. After ten minutes the salmon leaped and threw the fly, and left me weak-kneed, breathless, and a little wiser on the rocky Eddington embankment.     

The temperature was almost eighty degrees as I walked along the dark rocks that protrude from the river, and checked for signs of salmon in the Guerin Pool. Selecting a salmon fly for my box, I tied the Rusty Rat on my 7-½ pound tippet, and made a cast behind the submerged boulder. After 30 minutes of casting without a strike or a rise, I hiked up the rocky shoreline to try the Beach Pool at the foot of the rapids in the bend of the river. Undaunted after drifting the fly along the rapid’s edge for another 30 minutes without a bite, I hiked upstream through the chest-high grass, and unexpectedly met another angler.     

“Have you seen any salmon, or have any fish been caught yet?” I asked the wader-clad young angler.“They’ve put a few up over the dam today. My buddy, Beau Peavey caught one on Opening Day, and a couple of other fishermen had salmon on.   The biologists told me they put 3 salmon that had swum into the fish trap, up over the dam today.   Sea lice on those salmon told us those fish were fresh from the ocean,” the angler stated as I checked out the swirling water that created a large eddy and the Station “B” Pool before us.     

“I’m not sure what they are doing to the water level.   When I first got here this morning the gates were wide open, and the height of the water was good.   Now that it’s down, I’d like to go out and fish from that rocky island, but I don’t want to get stranded out there should they open the gate again!” the fisherman said with concern as he hiked downstream to fish the Beach Pool while I began casting into the whitewater at the head of the Station “B” Pool.     The bright, hot sunlight soon drove me from that deep hole and as I trekked back up the steep paved walk towards the clubhouse one of the two elderly gentlemen on the porch called, “You sure came up that path a lot quicker than I would.   Have you seen any salmon on the river?”     

After telling the fellows that I hadn’t, but that the biologists had put a few over the dam, one of the friendly fellows mentioned that he and his fishing partner were from Vanceboro, and owned a camp on the Miramichi.   I then continued up to my vehicle and headed for Lincoln.     

During another trip to Bangor last week, I stopped to talk with William Palmer, an attorney who is an avid fly fisherman. Bill really enjoys fishing each summer for trout at Russell Pond in Baxter State Park. He also mentioned that his dad has a camp on the West Branch of the Penobscot River above Chesuncook Lake.     

“Twenty to thirty years ago, catching a 5 or 6-pound salmon wasn’t unusual on that section of the West Branch.   Occasionally someone would land one of those old monster landlock salmon that weighed ten pounds! That’s a massive salmon, but today you don’t catch fish like that up there any longer. Most of the salmon are lucky if they weigh two pounds or more.  I wonder if it’s because of all the ice-fishing pressure the fish have gotten in Chesuncook Lake in recent years.  The state has got to do something about the problem before we lose all of the out-of-state anglers who come her to fish each summer.  It’s an embarrassment!  Maine has some of the most pristine waters and last brook trout populations in the country, and we need to change things before it’s too late,” the concerned angler concluded on that warm September morning.     

Many of us have also witnessed the drastic decline in our cold-water species in the past 30 years! With the dwindling Atlantic salmon population, mostly due to the difficulty in controlling the netting of that amazing fish in its feeding grounds in the northern Atlantic Ocean, preserving Maine’s landlock salmon becomes even more paramount.      

According to the Atlantic Salmon Federation, a new Greenland Conservation Agreement will suspend commercial salmon fisheries in Greenland’s territorial waters for seven years beginning with the 2007 season. The fishermen of Greenland have agreed to continue a moratorium, which began in 2002 under an earlier agreement. The moratorium has already saved thousands of wild Atlantic salmon that originate in rivers of North America and Southern Europe, migrate to feeding grounds off West Greenland, and then return to their home rivers to spawn.     

Scientists of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea [ICES] have recommended that there be no kill of wild salmon off West Greenland for at least the next four years. They estimate that the population there has declined 89% from 917,000 in 1975 to a predicted 113,000 in 2007. Salmon that make the long Greenland migration are particularly susceptible to mortality at sea. Fewer than 74,000 large salmon are believed to have made it back to North American rivers last year, while 152,548 salmon are needed to meet the overall basic conservation target. Unfortunately, ICES predicts no improvement in 2008 and 2009.     

The new agreement is contingent upon the Greenland Government continuing to abide by the scientific recommendations of ICES and adhering to a zero commercial quota under the Convention for the Conservation of Salmon in the North Atlantic Ocean, 1982.     

The ASF and NASF will provide annual contributions to a “Salmon Fund” in Greenland which will be used to finance projects that redirect salmon fishermen into alternative sustainable fisheries, reduce bycatch of salmon in those fisheries, purchase and destroy salmon nets, and provide employment in coastal communities.      

Many of us have personally witnessed the drastic decline in our cold-water species in the past thirty years. With the dwindling Atlantic salmon population, preserving Maine’s land lock salmon and trout becomes even more paramount!