AMC managing for Maine brook trout
By Rob Burbank
AMC Outdoors, April 2012
Anglers wearing wide smiles, despite sore casting arms, are frequently seen plying the ponds near AMC's Maine Wilderness Lodges, where wild brook trout eagerly rise for a well-placed fly and rapid-fire fishing is common.
AMC's land contains the headwaters of the West Branch of the Pleasant River and more than two dozen backcountry ponds, most of which host wild brook trout. The organization is working with conservation colleagues to help improve and protect the integrity of the brook trout fishery there.
That habitat is an exceedingly critical resource. According to a joint statement from the Maine Division of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W), Maine Audubon, and Trout Unlimited, "The state of Maine contains 97 percent of all the wild or native brook trout ponds remaining in the entire country, and has been designated as the last true stronghold for wild brook trout in the eastern U.S."
Not long after purchasing the 37,000-acre Katahdin Iron Works (KIW) property in 2003 as part of its Maine Woods Initiative, AMC designated nearly a third of that land as an ecological reserve, where motorized access is prohibited, in an effort to protect the headwaters, the fishery, and other important natural resources, such as rare plants.
It's an area a state wildlife biologist has called "as close to pristine as possible."
More recently, AMC has been working with conservation partners to restore stream flow and enhance brook trout habitat on its Maine lands. Known as the Aquatic Connectivity Pilot Project, this effort is part of the Keeping Maine's Forests (KMF) initiative, of which AMC is a member. AMC last year removed three aging culverts that had become barriers to fish passage and were contributing to degradation of brook trout habitat. Three more are slated to be removed or rehabilitated this year. Support was provided by KMF, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and other organizations.
Adjacent lands held by other private landowners may be eligible for similar habitat restoration under the program, which offers technical and financial assistance to landowners. AMC will help facilitate this effort.
Maine's brook trout waters have long been prized by anglers, and they achieved additional recognition last year when Trout Unlimited and Field & Stream magazine named the north woods of Maine among the Best Wild Places for 2011, noting, "This area is home to the largest swath of intact brook trout habitat in the nation and serves as a laboratory for brook trout restoration efforts all along the Eastern Seaboard."
Fifteen of AMC's backcountry ponds, including Grassy, Lost, and Fourth West Branch ponds, were among several surveyed last year as part of a joint project of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Maine Audubon, and Trout Unlimited. This ongoing survey involves recording observations and angling for fish. The goal is to determine the status of brook trout populations in the region's remote ponds to help inform future management decisions, according to Jeff Reardon of Trout Unlimited.
Biologists are set to follow up with formal net surveys on many of those ponds this season, Reardon says. Organizers are hoping to gather information on as many as 187 ponds, and volunteers are being sought to help.
AMC has also enhanced access to local brook trout waters for the benefit of anglers. In 2010, AMC trail crews improved trails into five trout ponds on the KIW property.
In recognition of the importance of backcountry ponds on its land, and the popularity of angling for wild Maine brook trout, AMC offers fly-fishing workshops at its Maine Wilderness Lodges in June and September, for those not afraid of enduring casting fatigue—or wearing wide grins.