After many years of saving, I finally sent in the $900 check for my Maine out-of-state lifetime fishing license last week. This license means a lot to me, especially since it’s a lifelong commitment to the sport I love. While I was saving for the most expensive purchase I’ve made to date, I learned a few life skills, including how to work, set goals, save money, and I’ll admit it, accept gifts. Through it all I had one goal in mind, but that goal has now evolved into countless distant dreams as I ponder my future fishing in the great state of Maine.
Some of you that know I live in Massachusetts may be questioning why I’d purchase a lifetime license in a state that doesn’t even share a border with mine. Well, the most obvious reason is that I’m still young, and haven’t quite decided where life will take me down the road. One thing’s for certain, though, and that’s that I want to remain in New England. While in New England, I’ll never be more than a car ride from arguably the best fishing the region has to offer in Maine. If I decide to move out of Massachusetts in favor of another neighboring state, I may infrequently visit some of my childhood stomping grounds, but I know I will always return to the Pine Tree State. Plus, my family has three small camps dotted around the best fishing waters in Maine, which I’m sure I will continue to visit for as long as I can.
Honestly, my biggest concern about a purchase like this isn’t that I’ll move away or stop visiting, it’s that the fishing will never be as good as it is now. Old-timers often reminisce about the stupendous fishing of yesteryear, and I’ve seen too many pictures of my great-grandfather with stringers full of fat brook trout to think they’re lying. The problem is, they treated those populations of fish as I just mentioned, killing dozens at a time without a second thought. That put these native fish at serious risk, and our actions throughout history haven’t helped to preserve the delicate fish communities.
In today’s worldwide society, we’ve learned just how quickly diseases and viruses can spread, namely coronavirus. If we take a lesson from our own books, we can understand that fish are at just as much risk as we are, except, while they do have diseases and viruses of their own, their fastest spreading threat is invasive species. In fact, invasive species are responsible for almost all the diseases and viruses native fish encounter. As we’ve learned, invasive species are particularly detrimental in Maine; fragile native salmonids can’t handle the added competition, illnesses, predation, and habitat loss that is associated with invasives. Species like smallmouth bass and northern pike have wreaked havoc on Maine’s indigenous species, and not only the precious coldwater fish, but even hardier ones like pickerel. Citizens and the State of Maine have opened their eyes to this enormous issue and have begun to take action, but that doesn’t mean all is well. Rock bass, another invasive sunfish species, has recently found its way into the Androscoggin River drainage through an illegal stocking. Invasive fish are scary, and once they’ve been introduced, there’s little we can do to stop them.
Invasive fish aren’t the only thing that could ruin a lifetime of fishing, though. I often find myself blaming them the most, but that’s simply because they are the most dangerous to a fish population. The second largest concern is urban sprawl, which unfortunately is unavoidable in this day-in-age when more people than ever can work from home. Maine used to be a relatively remote place because of the scarcity of large cities that offered places to work. Now, people are relying on cities less and less for work as they are able to commute via the internet.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because who says I might not reap the benefits of this work style in the future? For years, there have always been two choices: get a high paying job in the city but travel to do your fishing, or earn a little less but live right in the heart of pristine waters. As I think about the future, perhaps the best of both worlds would be a scenario in which I work from home and get to enjoy living in great fishing country.
Although I and many others may enjoy this style of living, the fish certainly don’t. Not only is there more pressure on previously untouched waters, but developers continue to strip away at the riparian zones that act as filters for these rivers, lakes, and streams. Without riparian zones, waterways are much more susceptible to pollution, higher water temperatures, and lower dissolved oxygen levels. In other words, a nightmare for native fish. The best way to combat this is to protect more land than the developers are able to build on, but it truly is an uphill battle.
While there are plenty of other causes for the loss of our native species, these are two of the most critical and worrisome. The past is behind us, and there is nothing we can do to stop our previous actions, like stocking smallmouth bass where they don’t belong and creating dams where anadromous fish need passage. That being said, we can learn from these mistakes and aim to fix them one step at a time in the future. Plans like ceasing the stocking of brown and rainbow trout where wild brook trout exist and removing unnecessary dams on coastal rivers are just a couple of ways we can make an impact in the years to come.
As a kid, I have to hope that those older than I make the right decisions as well. Policy makers need to do their part in protecting the environment, and regular citizens should abide by the regulations that are in place to protect our beloved fish. While older generations today complain about how much better the fishing was in the past, I want to be able to describe the great successes we’ve had in making Maine a better place to fish in the future. There are countless obstacles in our path, but we’ve proved we can do anything with a dream and a plan.
Final note: I’m officially a published author! You can find my article on page 39 of The Maine Sportsman magazine, or read it on their website here. The article is very relevant to this blog post as I describe an experience I have with an invasive fish, and my realization of how resilient native species are.