Maine's Sebago Lake Salmon Comeback!

Maine's Sebago Lake Salmon Comeback!

Maine's second largest lake is back as a spring landlocked salmon option. Could a new state-record fish be in the cards for 2009? (May 2009)

Anglers who love to target salmon, especially wild salmon, will want to fish Maine's Sebago Lake this summer.

According to Francis Brautigam, a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Region A fisheries biologist, angler surveys indicate that, next to brook trout, landlocked salmon are the most sought-after fish in the Pine Tree State.

Sebago Lake, the state's second largest lake, covers 30,513 acres, and supports one of the four known indigenous populations of landlocked Atlantic salmon in Maine. The big lake also gave up the state's largest salmon, a 22.5-pound fish caught by Edward Blakely back in 1907.

Historically, wild salmon production has accounted for 25 to 30 percent of Sebago's lake fishery, which is supplemented with hatchery-raised fish.

Recent MDIWF angler data indicates that about 70 percent of the legal salmon catch on Sebago consists of wild fish. Better yet, reported angler catch rates and gains in salmon size quality over the past couple of years are some of the best recorded on the lake over the past 40 years!

"In the late 1980s, Sebago experienced quite a decline in smelt population due to a burgeoning lake trout population," Brautigam said. "Stocked salmon had also been introduced into the lake during the decade spanning 1972 to 1982, with heavy stocking continuing into the late '80s. The combination of rapid growth for lake trout and too many salmon resulted in a crash of the smelt population, which remained low until four or five years ago.

"We undertook a number of regulation changes and stocking changes to help rebuild the smelt stock," Brautigam noted. "We reduced salmon stocking, liberalized lake trout regulations and participated in experimental smelt egg transfers to help bolster the smelt population, plus other research efforts to obtain information for future management."

Those efforts are paying big dividends now.

"This past season and the one before have been two of the best years for fishing for salmon on Sebago in recent memory," Brautigam said. "In the past, salmon have averaged up to 4 pounds, with some bigger fish," he continued, adding that in 2007 and 2008, "there were a fairly high percentage in the 4- to 7-pound class. Anglers hook and land half a dozen to a dozen salmon per trip, which is really outstanding for this part of the state."

Brautigam said the smelt population seemed to be down a bit in 2008.

"I'm still fairly optimistic that this spring will be another good season," he said. "I'm not sure anglers will see quite as many 5- to 8-pound salmon, though they certainly will see some. Overall, the outlook is good for spring 2009."

In an effort to reduce lake trout numbers, the MDIFW put forth legislation last fall allowing Sebago Lake to remain open to fishing from October through December and allows the harvest of lake trout.

SPRING IS BEST
"April, May and early June are prime times to go out and catch salmon," he said. "For a lot of anglers, that's the only time they go out there fishing for salmon.

"There's a very robust spring fishery at the mouth of the Songo River -- the Crooked River flows into the Songo and the Songo flows into Sebago," Brautigam said. "There's a major smelt run at the mouth of the Songo. As the smelt spawning season ends, salmon become redistributed into the lake."

Once the big fish disperse, several locations pay off. The area known as The Shoals is good, Brautigam said, as is the area called Straight Shores in the northern portion of the lake. There are more than 300 feet of waters in the western bay, providing cool waters over the hot summer months. Successful salmon anglers may also be found trolling the area from White's Bridge to Indian Island along the east side of the lake. Browns Point in Jordan Bay is popular, as are Thompson Point and Bear Point.

"In spring, there is no need for downriggers because the fish are on top," Brautigam advised. "As the salmon redistribute into the lake and the water remains cool, you can catch salmon in Sebago in water less than 15 feet deep if you're willing to fish early and late in the day. This holds true pretty much throughout the summer.

"As the sun climbs up and boating activity increases, you will need to fish deeper," Brautigam advised. "A lot of anglers are still using lead-core line, but more folks are using downriggers. Plan to fish 20 to 40 feet of water a little bit later in the morning -- salmon don't really like super deep water."

Anglers have the best luck on Sebago Lake salmon using sewn smelts, Mooseluk Wobblers, Gray Ghost and Green Ghost streamers.

PRE ICE-OUT TACTICS
"Ice-out" does not occur on Maine's big lakes in time for the April 1 open-water season arrival. Most impatient anglers fish the open water along shore until the ice melts enough to allow for boat launching.

Small boats may be floated into Sebago Lake from the mouth of the Songo River in Casco. Other good early options are the confluence of Sebago Lake and the Muddy River off Route 114 in Naples, and the trestle bridge in Standish, where the Sticky River flows into Sebago.

Anglers have the best luck on Sebago Lake salmon using sewn smelts, Mooseluk Wobblers, Gray Ghost and Green Ghost streamers.

April is still a fine month to hit the big lake. Last April 24 and 26, angler interviews conducted by MDIFW personnel revealed that some 50 legal salmon had been caught. Anglers also reported catching and losing some salmon over 6 pounds!

The best early-season (pre-smelt run) fishing is often near Sebago Lake State Park, which does not officially open until May 1. However, the park's boat launch is opened for angler access as soon as park roads are passable.

By May 12 last year, anglers were reporting good numbers of 3- and 4-pound salmon, along with the occasional 5- to 7-pounder. While bigger fish were reported to biologists, the largest confirmed salmon was 7 pounds, 10 ounces.

By May 19, the smelt run on the western shore tributaries had been over for about a week and anglers were reporting the best catches of salmon on the northwestern corner of the Big Bay.

Angler surveys indicated good action throughout June and July, although with more sub-legal salmon mixed in w

ith catches of large adult fish.

As fall approaches, new regulations put into place to reduce togue numbers, will result in the incidental catch of salmon. While salmon may not be harvested during fall fishing, even catch-and-release experiences increase handling stress and associated salmon mortality, especially for ripe adult fish.

The MDIFW asks anglers not to target salmon after Sept. 30, and to handle any salmon taken incidentally as carefully as possible. To further protect these popular fish, Sebago Lake is closed to the taking of salmon during ice-fishing season.

Access to the big lake may be had at several locations. Check DeLorme's Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, maps 4 and 5, for area details.

Lodging options are limited to inland motels before May 1, but after that, angler-friendly options increase. The Sebago Lake State Park spans 1,400 acres and offers anglers easy access to Big Bay and the mouth of the Songo River. There are 250 campsites in the park, which offer tables, grills and hot showers.

The park is open May 1 to Oct. 1, and is on U.S. Route 302 between Naples and South Casco. For details, call (207) 693-6613 in season; (207) 693-6231 year 'round, or visit www.state.me.us/ doc/parks/.

The Point Sebago Resort in Casco offers early-season packages likely to appeal to groups of anglers or to an angler traveling with family. The resort offers a variety of lodging options from RV sites to vacation homes, resort cottages and equipped park homes. Meals are included in many packages. Point Sebago Resort spans 775 acres, including a marina, boat rentals and boat slip rentals.

Fishing licenses and milfoil stickers may be purchased on-site. Call (207) 655-3821 or visit www.pointsebago.com.

For supplies and up-to-the-minute fishing information, stop by Naples Bait and Tackle at 38 Harrison Road, or call (207) 693-3638. Owner David Garcia has been in business for 26 years and is an avid salmon angler.

For more Sebago Lake fishing information, call the MDIFW Region A office at (207) 657-2345 or visit the Region A page on the MDIFW Web site at www.maine.gov/ifw.

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