Maine Back Woods Trout Ponds - Part 1

Posted by Christopher Paine on

"At times, fishing isn’t what fishing is about." I wonder if at times, when I’m sitting in my canoe and admiring the landscape, taking in the fall colors and hearing the cries of loons serenading me, I think: “This state is so beautiful, catching fish is just a bonus!” Fly fishing for native brook trout in such a setting is an amazing experience no matter the location. But the great thing about Maine is that you still have a chance to pursue trophy trout under pristine conditions. We are one of the few places in America with an excellent watershed, which means there's lots of clean, cold water for fish to live in.

Many people never get to experience this, though, because the logistics of putting together a trip is just too overwhelming for them. After all, Maine is the largest of the New England states and most of its trout ponds can only be accessed via small dirt roads or footpaths. Google Maps and other popular mapping apps wouldn't know. But for anglers willing to do their homework, finding that perfect fishing spot isn't that hard. The key is to narrow your search down to a specific area where you know the fish are.

This might be the easiest way to catch up on year’s worth of information; you can find all the important fishing info in Northwoods Sporting Journal or Maine Sportsman, or read about everything there is to know about Maine in The A Fisherman's Guide To Maine. Once you have found a few locations that sound interesting, you can do more research on the fly shops, guides or outfitters that service those regions to better understand them.

If you want to find a pond which can be a challenge, you may find it challenging. Without the use of navigation apps for instance, you will also need to negotiate logging roads if they are even available on your route. But the maps in the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer combined with plenty of fuel can generally lead people to their destination. Many newcomers to the Maine woods do get lost at one point or another. If you're not sure yet about your navigation skills, it's a good idea to stay at one of the many sports camps located on remote trout ponds. Baxter State Park is also easy to get to and has lots of opportunities for outdoor activities.


A Mainers are notorious masters of understatement told me, “I’ve probably heard of more large trout being taken from local ponds this year than ever before,” It made me stop and take notice, especially because in recent years, the trend had been steadily decreasing in the opposite direction.

The reason for the dramatic change of fortunes came about due to a series of Quality Fishing Initiatives put into action by recently retired Commissioner of Inland Fisheries, Raymond "Bucky" Owen. Many fishermen have had witnessed first-hand how encroaching roads and increasing fishing pressure are contributing to an overharvest of trout in remote ponds statewide. The solution to this problem was restricted fishing, which allowed you to catch and release the fish after your fly-fishing session, as well as limits on how many fish you could catch. He wanted to manage each pond individually, based on its ability to produce trophy fish. The Maine fishing regulations booklet, which is very lengthy with about 70+ pages, is a good example of a booklet that would be difficult to refer back to. The regulations for many ponds and lakes are now so precise that people can simply browse through the county-based list of places to fish and pick out those that are FFO, or those with other special regulations.

If we want to avoid extinction, stricter regulations must be enforced. The measure will only work if high-quality cold-water habitats are protected. And, after witnessing the dramatic decline in wild populations of pond-dwelling brook trout in most other parts of the Northeast, it has become absolutely clear that the survival of native brook trout in Maine will ultimately depend on the protection provided by The Wild Brook Trout Initiative. Thanks to the positive impact that tourism has had on Maine's economy lately, maintaining refuges around attractions such as trout ponds is now a priority. Hopefully, if the trend continues, Commissioner Owen’s dream of “providing all anglers in the state of Maine with a realistic chance to catch a four-pound native brook trout in pristine surroundings” will remain true into the foreseeable future.

Trout Ponds

“What is a good trout pond?” is an age-old question that has been debated around campfires and fly tying vices by generations of Maine fly fishermen. Even though there isn’t one perfect answer, by looking at a few of the factors that affect the survival and growth rate of brook trout in Maine ponds anglers will be better positioned to find right spot for fishing.

Most anglers know that trout need cold water to survive.  This is partly due to their metabolism, which can process food more efficiently at warm temperatures. They also need to breathe oxygen, which is easier to accumulate in warm waters than cool ones. Fishing enthusiasts looking to expand their fishing venue choices should know that while trout need cold water, they can also survive in smaller ponds making them worth the try. In the summer, many trout get confined to a few places. When I am going on a fishing trip, I am going to search for deep holes or cold water springs seepages.

It can be difficult to understand productivity. Basic people measure it by the amount of food the pond is able to produce for fish. It can depend on a lot of different things such as water depth and clarity, the presence of certain types of organisms, and the acidity. There are various types of substrates found in Maine which will affect the type of pond. Generally, ponds found on loose soils that contain limestone and other unconsolidated geologic deposits almost always have a wider variety and greater abundance of insects and baitfish, and thus produce faster growing trout and better fishing. This is because the necessary nutrients to support biological productivity are more easily leached from these softer materials than from hard rock. Ponds in northeastern states are often affected by acid rain. The more soluble substrates provided by these acid-buffering plants also play a key role in the biodiversity &amp; overall activity of these ponds.

Unfortunately, in most cases, there is no foolproof way to tell what nutrients are present in the water, unless you work with chemicals or geology. So I use two simple biological factors,

(1) the presence of the tall, broad-leaved water weed…

(2) tiny, shrimp-like scuds, as indicators to help me judge the fish producing potential of a particular pond. 

Both can be sampled by towing a mesh net hung from a weighted line behind a paddled canoe for 5 minutes.  Over time, I have found that in ponds with both are present, the fishing usually turns out quite well.

A third important factor when it comes to the size that a trout reaches is competition. That's because non-forage species, which compete with trout for food, are eating all the insects and minnows that were originally eaten by trout. This may be attributable to the fact that brook trout and other bait fish, such as shiners or dace, are only found in remote ponds. Large trout are often seen in these ponds due to the lack of competition from spiny-finned species.

Keep in mind, though, that not all trout-only waters will produce big fish. In environments where there is a surplus of food, the brook trout themselves can have trouble finding as much as they need. This can lead to smaller individual fish size. University of Maine biologist says that just by looking at a few ponds near the Appalachian Trail, we can see evidence for how important competition among consent species is. West Chairback is a healthy pond with adequate spawning habitat and a good survival rate for juvenile trout.  Each year, it provides anglers with excellent fishing for 10-12” trout, but rarely produces a fish over 15”.  East Chairback is marginally acidic, which means that during some years, large numbers of young trout are killed by acid rain.  The trout in the East Chairback are much larger than those in Cloud Pond because the chance of an East Chairback trout surviving is much higher. Because of this, there's more food for them to eat and they grow bigger. The acidity of Cloud Pond means that no one can survive there at all, which means that there aren't any limits on how big it can

The size a brook trout will reach is based on genetics as well as other influences. Studies has shown that wild trout live longer, grow faster and handle harsher conditions better than their inbred counterparts. Therefore, even though the Department of Inland Fisheries has recently made a commendable effort to improve the quality of their hatchery fish by introducing two new strains of trout, ponds that contain only wild, native fish will still produce the largest, most robust fish.




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