Q: Have fly fished the North Branch of the Dead River from the foot of the Chain of Ponds to Eustis for over 50 years & have wondered if changing it to C & R would have a positive effect. Realize some sections are close to Rt #27 & might be hard to enforce new regulations but would support a change & wonder what the F & G folks think of the idea. Will sign off with the nickname my fellow fly fishermen have given, "Dean of The Dead"A:
Catch-and-release regulations can enhance wild brook trout fisheries in certain situations. MDIFW’s experience, and that of other states’ fisheries agencies, indicates that brook trout respond best to “no-kill” rules in waters that exhibit the following characteristics:
1) Moderate or high levels of productivity and suitable habitat for all life stages of trout, such that the fish exhibit good growth rates and low natural mortality. Productive trout streams are relatively nutrient-rich, have suitable temperature and flow regimes, and support high insect abundance.
2) In the case of ponds, those with low levels of natural reproduction are generally the most suitable for catch-and-release management. Ponds with high population densities often experience stunting when catch-and-release or 1-fish /18” regulations are implemented. MDIFW studies show that ponds with trout densities less than 10 fish/acre are best suited for trophy management using catch-and-release or similar regulations.
3) Lifespan of the fish, which is partly determined by factors listed above, should be long enough to respond to reduced mortality from anglers after catch-and-release is imposed.
4) Heavy fishing pressure and high angling mortality, prior to imposition of catch-and-release, should be the primary factors controlling trout population abundance and size quality. Related to this, the water should have good public access and be highly fishable with flies or artificial lures.
5) The catch-and-release rule, if applied, should have broad public support and there must be good compliance from anglers.
The North Branch of the Dead River does not meet most of these criteria. Like most small rivers in the western Maine mountains, nutrient levels are very low and the growing season for trout is comparatively short. This means trout grow very slowly (three-year old wild trout in the North Branch rarely exceed 7-9 inches long), and natural mortality is likely substantial (trout older than age four are rare). Also, despite good roadside access along much of its course, we have no clear evidence that the North Branch is either fished excessively or that angler harvest is high. Therefore, we would not expect catch-and-release to dramatically improve this fishery.