that had severely damaged the riparian health of so many other
rivers in the region, notably the Dead Branch of the Diamond
River, the Sandy River, the Sunday River, and the Dead River.
In 2004, protection of the shoreline became permanent. As part
of the dam-relicensing agreement, the Rangeley Heritage Trust
was granted a conservation easement on a 165-foot strip of land
surrounding Pond in the River and along both sides of Rapid
River. Boucher called these events “a perfect storm for brook
trout,” and he meant it in a good way.
In 2002 and 2003, using radio telemetry to track 30 large
brook trout, the biologists made startling discoveries. The trout
fed voraciously along the length of river between ice-out and
the end of June, experiencing almost all their year’s growth in
that short growing season. As the temperatures warmed in July,
except for a few trout dropping down into the north basin of
Umbagog, every tagged adult moved up into Pond in the River
and found thermal refuge over a single spring hole. When lower
water temperatures returned in September, the trout moved back
into the river and staged for the spawning season. Twenty-five of
the thirty tagged fish bailed into one deep trough not far downstream from the remnants of the old Lower Dam, within sight of
Forest Lodge, where Louise Dickinson Rich had done her writing.
Hanson led a diving team over the spawning bed, and estimated
50 to 75 three- and four-year-old spawning trout in that one hole.
They discovered only a few other small spawning beds in the rest
of the river.
In stark contrast with western rivers that boast big trout in
the thousands per mile, that small number of big adults on the
Rapid was solely responsible for the river’s reputation as blue-ribbon water. Fishermen were catching and releasing the same
handful of trophy-sized individuals over and over. It wasn’t
surprising that the catch-and-release regulation turned out to
be critical in sustaining the river’s reputation.
The team discovered that the extraordinary hydraulic structure between Lower Dam and Long Pool supported the most
important part of the fishery. In addition to finding the main
spawning trough, they found several stretches of near-ideal fry-nursery habitat, which some of the biologists believed was even
more critical to the trout’s survival than the spawning habitat.
Boucher helped push through new rounds of regulations,
which closed this entire section of river to fishing after September
15, to protect the spawning fish from incidental hooking injury
and mortality. Knowing how damaging it would be to exploit
the trout seeking refuge in Pond in the River, Boucher helped
close the entire pond to fishing in July and August to protect the
trout during their most stressed time of the year.
The results, in terms of the fishing, were nearly instantaneous. Almost overnight, the fishing swung back toward the big
brook trout the river had become famous for.
Invasion of the Smallmouth
Once the baseline ecology of the river was established, biologists turned their attention to understanding how brook trout
and smallmouth bass interact within a closed watershed – and
they fretted about the presence of the bass. Boucher’s department,