Several years ago, before the removal of two dams on the Penobscot River as part of the Penobscot River Restoration Project, I spoke with a conservationist who had a pretty good idea what would transpire in the future.
That man, Jeff Reardon of Trout Unlimited, pointed at the Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River, which had already been taken out. Reardon told me to keep an eye on species other than the iconic Atlantic salmon in the years following the Penobscot restoration effort.
One of the first fish to come back in large numbers, Reardon said, would be the American shad. In fact, Reardon thought that a huge recreational fishery on the Penobscot was likely.
Shad can be fun to catch, and often weigh between three and eight pounds. It makes sense that anglers would be interested in catching them; we spend a lot of time and money targeting fish that are a lot smaller and less energetic, after all.
Fast forward a few years, and it’s becoming clear that Reardon was right.
A year ago, 1,806 shad returned to the river. That was impressive in its own right.
But consider this: Though this year’s shad run is just getting warmed up, 1,772 shad have already been counted at the Milford Dam in 2016.
Even more stunning: On Monday alone, 1,004 shad were counted at Milford.
Atlantic salmon have also begun showing up in decent numbers — 71 fish in the last week — but shad and river herring runs have dominated, and are off the charts.
A year ago, showing the results of a stocking effort that began years earlier, more than 589,000 river herring, including alewives, returned to the river. This year, 1,194,577 river herring have made the trip up the Penobscot while on their ways to their spawning grounds on freshwater ponds.
River herring serve as food for a number of wildlife species, and having more than a million small fish in the river when salmon (and shad) are returning to the Penobscot gives potential predators, including osprey and eagles, plenty of forage to choose from.
That’s good for all the fish, and will likely continue to affect fisheries in a positive way.
As far as shad are concerned, a question remains: Is there a viable recreational fishery in the Penobscot right now?
I’ve talked to a local angler who had some luck fishing for shad before the recent huge run of fish. Later this week, I’ll be heading out with a small group of anglers to see if we can get some shad to cooperate.
Next week, I’ll let you know what we learned.