In western Maine, along the New Hampshire and Quebec borders, the headwaters of the Androscoggin River hold an ecological (and angling) miracle. As glaciers receded from the last Ice Age, they left behind them a landscape of lakes and ponds, interconnected by river and streams, and virtually fishless. Brook trout recolonized this habitat soon after the glaciers left, and along with a landlocked species of arctic char known as the blueback trout, were virtually the only predatory fish in the watershed.
Ten thousand years later, when Europeans first discovered the region in the middle of the 19th century, these waters were teeming with brook trout as large as 10 pounds. Sporting camps and lodges-several of which are still in business today-opened to cater to "sports" from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Amazingly, although landlocked salmon, lake trout, and some bait fish species have been added to the mix, dams have been built on all the lakes, and the forest has been cut multiple times, at the turn of the 21st century the wild brook trout fishery is still intact. Dozens of wild trout ponds, and hundreds of miles of wild trout streams remain.
For brook trout fishermen who prefer rivers, the Rapid River, a brawling 4 miles of rapids and pools between Richardson Lake and Umbagog Lake along the New Hampshire border, is the jewel in the crown. Surrounded by conservation easements to protect the habitat, accessible only by a one mile hike or a five mile boat ride, and with catch and release rules to allow for growth to larger sizes, the Rapid River still consistently produces brook trout of three pounds, and fish of five pounds or more are possible on any day. Although less renowned, other tributaries of Umbagog Lake, including the Magalloway River and the Dead Diamond River New Hampshire offer similar fisheries.
The Rapid River at sunset
Approximately 20 years ago, smallmouth bass were illegally introduced into Umbagog Lake. Smallmouths rapidly colonized this habitat and within the past 8 years have invaded the Rapid River, where they threaten one of the nation's finest wild brook trout fisheries. Smallmouth bass predation on brook trout fry has been documented, and there is evidence that brook trout recruitment is declining. The Rapid River's wild brook trout, which routinely attain weights of 3-5 pounds and support one of the state's highest angler use rates, are clearly imperiled, as is the fishery they support.
A unique coalition of conservation and sporting groups has banded together with Trout Unlimited and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W) to develop a strategic plan to address this issue. Our goals are to:
(1) Prevent further invasions of upstream high quality brook trout waters;
(2) Identify methods to reduce smallmouth bass production in the Rapid River watershed;
(3) Implement measures to reduce smallmouth predation on juvenile brook trout in the Rapid River;
(4) Conduct an aggressive public outreach campaign about the risks of invasive game fish introductions.
Maine Department of Inland Game&Fish Biologist Dave Boucher conducts research on the Rapid River
Coalition Members: Trout Unlimited, Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust, Fly Fishing in Maine, Rangeley Region Guides and Sportsmen, Maine Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, Friends of Richardson, FPL Maine, Sportsmen's Alliance of Maine, Umbagog Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Major Funders and Supporters: Orvis, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Upper and Middle Dams Hydro Licensing Mitigation Fund
Accomplishments to Date:
Completed barrier needs assessment for Umbagog and Richardson Lake tributaries. Have identified the need for a bass barrier at C Pond.
Completed a "signage" project that posted 50 "Trouble by the Bucketful" signs at Rangeley area boat launches and access sites. These signs served as a template for a statewide effort that is now being implemented. Also, NH Fish and Game and the Umbagog NWR are implementing a similar project, using the Rangeley sign as a template.