Fishing in Maine’s rule book is a frustrating experience

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                 I accepted the challenge to choose favorite waters in the new 2016 Maine fishing rule book, and try to find the applicable rules. I selected Nesowadnehunk Lake and Stream, and the Kennebec River, and pretended I had never fished there. I have owned a camp on Nesowadnehunk Lake for many years, but for the purposes of this exercise, I pretended this would be my first year of fishing there.

                I am writing this in narrative form mostly for my own amusement, with apologies. I am sure you will get my drift, and recognize the difficulty encountered by any angler who is trying to discover the rules governing a lake, pond, river, stream, or brook with which he or she is unfamiliar. Even experienced anglers would have difficulty finding their favorite waters and the applicable rules in this rule book.

                I focused first on Nesowadnehunk Lake in Piscataquis County, turning to page 19, where I was surprised to find that Penobscot Country, which parallels Piscataquis County and borders the most northern Aroostook County, is in the Southern and Eastern Counties. Ok, so I skipped the first step of reading about the General Law bag and length limits and great restrictions, but I’m guessing that Nesowadnehunk has special rules. So now I’m up to step number 4 of the instructions, searching for the water in the Northern and Western Counties section.

                I found Nesowadnehunk Lake on page 43, where I was directed to “Sourdnahunk Lake.” Ok, now we’re using shorter nick names for some waters. On page 44, I find Sourdnahunk Lake, “T5 R11 WELS. C1. S-5.” Hmmm? Ok, back to the beginning instructions of how to use this book, where in that confusing Section 5 I am directed to the inside back cover for an explanation of the codes. It is there that I discover that C1 means the lake is closed to ice fishing. S-5 means its fly fishing only.

                OK, now I’m getting down to the details. Well, I would be, if I could find them.  Eventually, I find a section of definitions. Here’s the definition of “Fly (Artificial Fly): A single-pointed hook dressed with feathers, hair, thread, tinsel, or any similar material to which no additional hook, spinner, spoon or similar device is added.” The definition of “Fly Fishing” is “Casting upon the water and retrieving in a manner in which the weight of the fly propels the fly. No more than 3 unbaited artificial flies individually attached to a line may be used. (12654-A) (NOTE: It is unlawful to troll a fly in waters restricted to fly fishing only.) (12658).

                Well, now I need to check the definition of trolling, because I often fish from my boat or canoe, and here it is: “To fish by trailing a line rigged to catch fish behind or in front of a watercraft being propelled by mechanical, wind or manual power. (Tandem flies are allowed when trolling.)” Good to know, but didn’t I just read I can’t troll on fly fishing only waters? I think I did. Luckily, I am a member of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, and I remember reading in the SAM News many years ago that the group got the legislature to clarify that you can throw your fly out to the side of the boat, and let it drift all the way to the back of the boat, while you are motoring along, but then you must pick it up and start over.

                As I am whipping through the rules, I notice a listing for Baxter Park in the Penobscot County section in the Southern and Eastern section of the book. A portion of Nesowadnehunk Lake is in Baxter, at least I think it is. The rule book tells me that “the use of motor boats or outboard motors in the park is prohibited except on Matagamon and Katahdin Lakes. (Also see regulations under Piscataquis Country).” I get disoriented looking, unsuccessfully, for Piscataquis Country, until I remember that it is in the Northern and Western Counties section.

                I finally find the Baxter Park listing in Piscataquis County, and read that outboard motors of ten (10) horsepower or less are permitted on Upper and Lower Ponds. Still nothing about Nesowadnehunk Lake. Seems funny because there is a park sign along one shore of the lake, but I guess I’ll have to stop at the Park Headquarters sometime for clarification of this rule.

                As long as I was still here in the Piscataquis County section, I decided to check on the rules for Little Nesowadnehunk Lake. It’s not listed, so, remembering the instructions, I assumed it was general law. That would have been a big mistake, as I discovered later when I double checked Sourdnahunk Lake, and found, right under that listing, “Sourdnahunk Lake, Little, (Little Nesowadnehunk). In addition to the C1 and S-5 rules governing the big lake, Little is governed by an S-17 rule. So, back to the inside back cover, where I discover that S-17 means, “Daily bag limit on trout: 2 fish; minimum length limit: 10 inches, only 1 may exceed 14 inches.”

                I know I should spend more time on the three pages with 62 definitions, because I happened to notice something about fishing near a dam, and I’ll be doing that in Nesowadnehunk Stream. But I’m getting bogged down. Remembering now that Step 1 was to read through the General Law information, I decided to do that. But between the definitions and the general law information, I find a page in which our good-natured Governor, Paul LePage, says he’s happy to have me here. I doubt that, given the times I’ve criticized him in this column and elsewhere, but I know he didn’t mean this message for me.

                I do appreciate Commissioner Chandler Woodcock’s message on the same page, particularly when he notes that “The wild brook trout of Maine are an unparalleled resource for future generations.” That is so true, and I am proud of the work we did, at SAM, to recognize and protect our native brookies. When he was a State Senator, Chandler sponsored SAM’s bill that successfully designated the book trout as our Heritage Fish and protected them where they live in waters that have never been stocked (over DIFW’s objections, I might add!).

                In the General Law section, I read that my daily bag and possession limits for Nesowadnehunk Lake are 5 brook trout of at least 6 inches. Ok, so let’s finish up this search for waters I plan to fish on the western edge of Baxter Park, and check out the rules for Nesowadnehunk Stream. I’m smartening up now, so I started at Sourdnahunk and sure enough, that’s where Nesowadnehunk Stream’s rules are found.

                But before I read them, I noticed Sourdnahunk Thoroughfare, “Closed to all fishing: that portion of the thoroughfare between Sourdnahunk Lake and the dam northerly from the dam for approximately 1000 feet to red markers set on the shore.” Well, good to pay attention to that rule, I guess!

                Under Sourdnahunk Stream, I learned it is S-5 (which I remember is fly fishing only, and boy, does that make me feel some old smart), “except that from the downstream side of the bridge at Nesowadnehunk Field to the downstream side of the bridge at Foster Field: fishing restricted to the use of single hook artificial lures only.” I assume that doesn’t mean I can’t use flies. Eventually, you’ve just got to make some assumptions and move on.

                But before moving on to my next water, I go back to the definitions to check out the restrictions I noticed for fishways, where I learned that I can’t fish within 150 feet of any operational fishway (operational meaning it has a fishway capable of fish passage). That seems very interesting to me. Apparently if the fish have no fishway, and no chance to escape, I can fish right at the dam. If they have a fishway and a chance of escaping, I cannot. Go figure. There’s a lengthy list of dams where this rule doesn’t apply, and I notice some places I do fish on the list, so I’ll have to check the list out again later.

Kennebec River

                I spend a lot of time fishing the Kennebec River, all the way from Moosehead Lake to Popham Beach. So I turned to the section on Southern and Eastern Counties to find the Kennebec River listing. I am directed to Page 50, and I move in that direction with a sinking feeling in my stomach. Sure enough, the river is broken into a dozen different sections, all with different rules for seasons, gear, species, length limits, and daily bag limits.

                When I’m canoeing or boating or kayaking down the river, I’m going to have to pay careful attention to landmarks and red signs that mark each section. Ugh, I just can’t deal with this now, but I am a bit curious because the East and West Outlets of the river are not on the list, and I do especially enjoy fishing the East Outlet. So again, I go a-hunting through the book, checking first to see if the outlets are listed in the Northern and Western Counties list. Sure enough, under Piscataquis County, I find a listing: “Kennebec River, East & West Outlets. (See Somerset County).

                In the Somerset County section, I read this: “The Kennebec River regulations are presented on page 57, except for the East Outlet, West Outlet, and the tributaries sections listed below.” The rules governing the outlet are listed after that. How, I wonder, would any angler new to fishing in Maine, or even to fishing the upper Kennebec River, have known enough to look for the East and West Outlet rules, after reading the page governing the Kennebec River? There is nothing on that page that would direct you to the outlets’ rules.

Back to the definitions

                I’d spotted a couple of other definitions that I thought I’d better check out, before hitting the water, so before I ended this all-day read-a-thon, I turned to those. Under Failure to Label Fish, I learned, “It is unlawful to keep bass, landlocked salmon, togue, or trout at any sporting camp, hotel, public lodging place or any place other than a person’s residence without attaching the name and address of the person who caught the fish.” So, I guess I better have some labels prepared for any trout I keep at camp.

                I also discovered that I can’t remove the heads or tails of any fish, until I am preparing them for immediate cooking. The rule says “smoking does not constitute cooking” so I guess I have to leave the heads on to use that new smoker I got for Christmas.

And more

                Yes, there are lots more rules and information in the 2016 fishing rule book. Rules governing boundary waters and waters regulated by the Tribes. There’s a special warning to “Know the S-33 Code!!” This one reports we might catch at Atlantic salmon in many of Maine’s inland waters, and we darned well better not think they are landlocked salmon and keep them. Big trouble!

                Fortunately, I have started reading the rules early in the winter, long before I’ll get to my favorite waters to fish open water. But wait! Thanks to SAM, which advocated for all-year open water fishing for a decade before the legislature finally voted to authorize that, I can now fish any open water in my county, any time of the year.

                Well, I’m going to have to tackle those rules a bit later. It’s too darned cold to fish today, anyway.


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