Russ Oakes and Paige Pellerin fish on Broken Bridge Pond on May 28, near where they had nabbed a wilderness campsite. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

ALBANY TOWNSHIP — Russ Oakes and Paige Pellerin of Portland spend a lot of time fishing in the northern tier of Maine on conservation land and working forestland that allows fishermen to enjoy wild trout ponds. The downside: It’s at least five hours away.

They were delighted to learn that they can enjoy the same lush forestland, pristine ponds, and great wild trout fishing just 90 minutes away in the White Mountain National Forest in Maine. A state reclamation project has returned a number of ponds to wild trout fisheries and a slice of the national forest back to a camping-and-fishing haven.

“It’s really good fishing. And the size of the brook trout here are nice,” Oakes said on Memorial Day weekend. “We saw fishermen catch two at 14 inches last night. And it’s not far away if you need to resupply. Today we went to Bethel – just a half hour away.”

“It was fun fishing last night,” Pellerin added, as they prepared to launch their canoe. “I really had to get away for the weekend – and this was perfect. And we were lucky to get a campsite. We got here at 11 a.m. Friday and got the last campsite.”

Over the past 10 years, the state reclaimed three remote trout ponds in the national forest where invasive species had choked off the native brook trout, forcing them to compete for forage with  fish not native to the ponds. In that time, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife also reclaimed two more trout ponds in the southern region just east of the national forest: Little Concord and Abbott ponds. The reclamations, done with an organic substance called rotenone that is used to kill fish, were successful at last check, said Maine Fisheries Biologist Jim Pellerin.

Two of the three ponds in the national forest – along with Little Concord in Woodstock – show evidence of wild, self-sustaining populations, Pellerin said. In fact, Round Pond in the national forest has proven to have a self-sustaining wild population.

The three reclaimed ponds in the White Mountain National Forest – Broken Bridge, Crocker and Round ponds – are near one another, although Round Pond involves a mile hike.

About a dozen wilderness campsites are beside, or a short walk from Broken Bridge and Crocker ponds. These first-come, first served campsites fill up quickly on weekends. One fisherman said several are taken even on weekdays. Some fishermen – like one who wanted to talk fishing, but not give his name – come up for a week at a time.

With a mile hike to it, Round Pond requires some planning. It’s tough to lug a canoe that far and the shore fishing is not easy. But, Pellerin said, the wild fish are so ample that state biologists are going to cease stocking the pond this year.

Of Maine’s seven regions overseen by state fisheries biologists, southern Maine has the most reclaimed ponds – with about 10 in the past 20 years, largely because it has the most waters where illegal introduction of invasive species pollute the waters. Pellerin said many of these reclamations have been successful and resulted in excellent renewed trout fisheries.

Matt Holden fishes while his wife, Lauren Holden, reads a book in their canoe at Broken Bridge Pond in the White Mountain National Forest on May 28. The pond, and two others in the forest, were reclaimed several years ago. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The process takes a lot of permitting, time on the ground by biologists and it’s expensive, but the payout can be huge for fishermen. 

“Rotenone has a nice natural breakdown with very little short-term impact to humans and wildlife,” Pellerin said. “It’s a very effective management tool. It allows us to turn back the clock with invasive fish and restore trout ponds.”

Brook trout need streams or sufficient habitat to spawn. Both Broken Bridge and Round ponds have that. In Broken Bridge, the average size of a brook trout has been about 11 inches, Pellerin said. The average fish in Round Pond is 8.2 inches, but Pellerin said eliminating the stocking program in the pond will decrease competition for forage and help the fish there to grow bigger.

State fisheries biologists are working with White Mountain National Forest rangers to try to get a canoe into Round Pond, to further help the fishery by adding more fishing pressure that could thin out the trout populations. The canoe likely would be locked up and require a combination to use it, although the details haven’t been worked out, Pellerin said.

“It was really excellent when we first reclaimed it. The fish were really fat, getting up to 15 inches,” Pellerin said. “Now, there are too many fish.”

A sign at Crocker Pond in the White Mountain National Forest lets visitors know the pond has been reclaimed and stocked with trout. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

At Little Concord, which also requires a mile walk in, the fish are as large as 18 inches. 

But the wilderness campsites in the national forest make Broken Bridge and Round ponds popular destinations.

Matt and Lauren Holden of Harrison came to camp and fish at Broken Bridge Pond at the end of May for the holiday weekend, as they often do. It’s just 40 minutes from their home near the north end of Long Lake, but they said it feels far more remote.

The wilderness campsites are so close to Harrison, their family and friends often pop in to sit around the campfire. But the Holdens mostly come to the national forest to fish and get away.

“It’s so quiet here. You don’t hear boats or Jet Skis,” Lauren Holden said. “Sometimes I just pull out my book and read in the boat. And the bullfrogs here are huge. They’re everywhere. That’s something that stands out to me.”


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