New smelting, fishing regulations in effect on West Branch

In the woods just outside of Millinocket, smelting on the West Branch of the Penobscot River is a seasonal tradition that draws throngs of fishermen to well-known hot spots. If you’re among those, pay attention: The rules have changed.

And if you just like to wet a line in the West Branch, read on: Your rules may have changed, too.

I recently received an email from Gordon “Nels” Kramer, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s fisheries biologist who oversees that neck of the woods. He shared a copy of his latest fisheries report, which itemizes the changes that appear in the latest version of the state’s fishing law book.

According to Kramer’s report, people who want to dip a mess of smelts on the West Branch need to realize that the bag limit on smelts has changed.

This year’s law book, which is in effect until March 31, 2013, reads as follows: “Smelts may be taken by dip net from the northeast bank of the river in the area between Ambajejus Lake and Passamagamet Lake. Closed to taking smelts from midnight to noon each day. Daily bag and possession limit on smelts, one quart.”

Let me reiterate: You’re only allowed to keep one quart. If you’re a smelt-dipper, you realize that’s half the previous limit of two quarts. (See! You didn’t know you were going to get a math lesson today, did you?)

According to Kramer’s fisheries report, the new rule was needed because of the importance of smelts to all of the cold-water game fish that depend upon them for their growth and survival.

And before you get grumpy about the reduction, it’s important to consider this: The bag limit reduction was a compromise. Some wanted to put the West Branch off limits to smelters.

“The initial proposal, and one supported over the years by many salmon anglers in the Katahdin region, was to close the West Branch to all smelting in an effort to maximize smelt population densities for forage,” Kramer wrote in the report. “However, we feel that spring smelt dipping has a long tradition in Maine, and we wanted to make every effort to continue that practice, even if with a reduced bag limit.”

Other new rules that you ought to know about (if you want to avoid showing up on an episode of “North Woods Law,” that is):

  • In order to improve the size quality of landlocked salmon on the lower West Branch and the Pemadumcook Chain of Lakes, the DIF&W is encouraging increased harvest of fish in some areas. Therefore, in Ambajejus, North Twin, South Twin and Quakish lakes, Elbow Pond and a short section of the West Branch below the North Twin Dam, there will now be a three-fish limit on salmon with a 12-inch minimum.
  • Previously, bait was not allowed on a section of the West Branch above Debsconeag Falls. The new regulation moves that boundary to Pockwockamus Falls, which allows bait fishermen access to an additional 3.5 miles of the river.
  • Over at East Grand Lake, which borders New Brunswick, Canada, anglers will be allowed to fish with two lines during the summer, as opposed to the previous one-line limit. Also, anglers will be allowed to fish for up to two hours before sunrise and until two hours after sunset in the winter. That adds an additional 1.5 hours on each end of the day.
  • And over at Cold Stream Pond, new length and bag regulations on togue have been added, reflecting an improvement in the size and condition of lake trout over the past several years. New rules allow a two-fish bag limit, with an 18-inch minimum.
  • Kramer also advises that holding live baitfish in any lake that serves as the water supply to a hatchery is prohibited. Cold Stream Pond, Embden Lake, West Grand Lake, Sheepscot Pond and Pleasant Lake in Casco are all included in the new rule, which was enacted at the request of the DIF&W’s hatchery division in order to prevent the spread of disease.

If you’ve got more questions, you can reach Kramer at, or by calling 732-4131, extension 4003.



John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.