State to manage Upper Androscoggin River trout fishery

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BETHEL — Given that the Upper Androscoggin River is mainly a trout fishery, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will now manage it as such, according to its new plan.

The Upper Androscoggin River Fishery Management Plan by state fisheries biologists Francis Brautigam and James Pellerin was released last month and made available on the department’s website, www.maine.gov/ifw.

Although the ‘upper’ portion of the river is from the Maine-New Hampshire state line to Rumford’s Pennacook Falls, the report focuses on the more heavily fished section from the state line in Gilead to Davis Park in Bethel.

The management goal is to develop and maintain a year-round, open-water fishery primarily for rainbow trout and a second fishery for brown and brook trout, the document states.

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That was good news for area fish conservation and recreation groups who participated in the process via a Public Working Group to develop a management plan.

“Speaking for myself as a member of the PWG, I thought the report was very good,” Dick Walthers of the Mollyockett Chapter of Trout Unlimited said Wednesday morning in an email.

He credited Brautigam and Pellerin for their extensive work on the project.

“The Andro is a complex water system,” Walthers said. “There are unique challenges when you try and please everyone. The openness with which the report was done makes this a credible report.”

“This is great,” Wende Gray of the Upper Andro Anglers Alliance in Bethel said Wednesday by email. “We are pleased that IF&W considered the Upper Andro a top priority for a management plan.”

According to the plan, management should strive to create opportunities enjoyed by adults and youth of varying skill and ability levels. It lists four key expectations that support successful management:

* Provide adequate, long-term public access opportunities for various angler user groups.

* Maintain river aesthetics and scenery.

* Provide relatively high trout catch rates.

* And provide opportunity for catching some trout of larger size quality.

The department admits that it cannot achieve full attainment of the goal, but will require support and active involvement from other state agencies, local towns, the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments in Auburn, land trusts, conservation organizations like Trout Unlimited, the alliance and the Androscoggin River Watershed Council, private landowners and those who recreate on the Androscoggin River.

That said, it’s not something that’s going to happen entirely in this upcoming fishing season, Scott Stone, president of the Upper Andro Anglers Alliance, said early Tuesday afternoon.

“We are dealing with a body of water that at one time had a magnificent fishery and at one time was one of the top polluted rivers in the country,” Stone said.

“That river’s been through a lot. We want to make this body of water one of the best top 10 rivers to fish for trout, but for something like that to happen, it isn’t going to happen in the blink of an eye.”

The idea is to maximize trout survival rather than just keep dumping fish into the river annually for a put-and-take fishery, Stone said.

“One of the things I think we as a culture look for is we look for things to be ‘fixed’ or ‘changed’ and we expect these things to happen quickly, which is the way the world works, but not the way Mother Earth works,” he said.

“We wanted to try and let Mother Nature help us bring it back. What we didn’t want to do was to introduce a bunch of ridiculous regulations.

“One of the things we want to do is to create a sustainable fishery so the fish level and quality match the quality of the river and that’s how it becomes sustainable,” Stone said. “It’s not about how many fish we put in; it’s about how many fish survive. So we need to create a better quality of water to hold a better quality of fish.”

He said the practical and logical approach is to restore the river to its past prior to it being used as a dumping ground for pollutants.

According to the plan, management objectives are to:

* Provide a trout fishery comprised primarily of rainbow trout, and a secondary fishery for brown and brook trout to maintain desired diversity and to maximize habitat use.

* Provide desirable angler trout catch rates for 10- to 14-inch-long trout.

* Provide opportunity to catch trout greater than 14 inches long.

* Protect and enhance the contribution of wild rainbow trout, even though annual stocking will likely be necessary to sustain desired angler catch rates on a consistent basis.

* Collect biological, chemical, physical and recreational angling data to support long-term management.

* Create desirable angling opportunities on the upper Androscoggin River and other waters in the area that will attract anglers and support the local economy by better using the existing infrastructure developed to service the winter snow sports industry.

* Investigate opportunities to increase fish-holding structure, such as habitat type, substrate and depths.

* Identify and explore opportunities to correct areas of significant bank erosion that may be impacting downstream habitat from sedimentation.

* Encourage and support local planning efforts to protect the scenic and aesthetic qualities important to river anglers.

“We’re happy where we’re at at this point now, but there is a lot of pressure on IF&W to put in a lot of fish,” Stone said. “Maybe that’s not the best thing to do to allow this magnificent body of water to return to its former state.”

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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