The relationship between anglers and state fisheries biologists can sometimes be a bit strained.
Anglers spend a lot of time on the water, after all, and think they’ve got their own personal fishing holes figured out. Biologists are responsible for managing hundreds and hundreds of lakes and ponds, and often encounter resistance from local “experts.”
But when the two groups work together, they can accomplish some pretty impressive things.
That’s the case in Greenville, where local fishermen and women have teamed up with biologists to help management efforts on Moosehead Lake.
Back in 2008, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife regional biologist Tim Obrey explains, Moosehead Lake’s lake trout — or “togue” — population was out of control. There were so many lakers, in fact, that they didn’t have enough to eat, and were very small compared to the natural growth pattern on other lakes.
That’s when biologists and concerned citizens came up with a way to address the problem: They held the first Moosehead Lake Ice Fishing Derby with Ricky Craven, and made sure anglers were keeping as many small fish as possible.
“We liberalized the regulations to include no size or bag limit on togue less than 18 inches [long] and increased the bag limit to two fish for togue over 18 inches,” Obrey explained in a 2012 interview.
Competitors in the yearly derby were rewarded by a ticket, or chance at a prize, for every legal togue they registered.
In three years, Obrey estimated that anglers removed as many as 80,000 togue from Moosehead, and left more food — smelts — for the remaining fish.
The effort has been so successful that when this year’s edition of the derby is held on Jan. 23-25, those rules designed to decrease the population will no longer be in play.
“[In 2008] the number of anglers ice fishing on Maine’s largest lake was below the management objective and the abundance of small, skinny togue was very high,” Obrey explained in an email this week. “The combination of the derby and other management changes were very effective and we have now reached our management objectives for maintaining a more balanced togue population.”
So, how will the rules change?
“In past years, the derby included a ‘fish pool’ where anglers would bring in smaller fish and get a raffle ticket for prizes,” Obrey wrote. “Because we have reached our objective, there will be no fish pool this year. Instead, there will be many door prizes and the winners will be drawn from the entry tickets.”
The key point: If you bought a derby ticket, you can win one of the high-end prizes (vacations and firearms, among other prizes are available) without ever stepping on the ice or chasing a flag.
Another key component of the derby: Proceeds have helped fund several non-profit organizations, which in turn have been reinvested back into fisheries management projects.
Tickets for the derby are available at many Greenville-area businesses, as well as at Van Raymond Outfitters in Brewer, Mountain’s Market in Dover-Foxcroft, and a NrecMoosehead.org.