keep or kill as many bass as they can catch.
The periodic pulsed dam releases, timed
to move spawning bass or black fry or egg
sacs off the spawning nests, were not written
into the new license at Middle Dam; at this
time, that remains entirely voluntary on the
part of the dam’s new owner. So far, the utility has been willing. There is evidence that
the pulsed flows are making a difference.
Average trout sizes have slowly started to
come back. Longtime guides such as Aldro
French and Kris Thompson both say the
fishing today produces more salmon than
it did many years ago, but that the big trout
have hung in there despite the bass. Reports
of the disappearance of four- and five-pound
trophies were premature. The insect hatches
are still strong.
Dave Boucher moved from the Rangeley
Lakes Region to the capitol in Augusta, where
he became the state’s fisheries management
supervisor. Sadly, he didn’t get the chance to
watch his efforts on the Rapid play out over
the long term. Boucher died from a heart
attack in March of 2016 at the age of 56. But
the outreach and education that he devoted
many long years to regarding the danger of
moving and introducing non-native fish has
been a success. While smallmouth and largemouth bass, perch, pike, and black crappie
continue to be introduced illegally into new
bodies of water every year in other parts of
the state, no new fish have appeared in any
watershed of the Rangeley Lakes.
That may be a crucial legacy.
Biologists in Maine believe the current
balance may be sustainable. There’s little
precedent for brook trout and bass coexisting
elsewhere in the state, but for now – for
the guides and the sports and the sporting
camps, for the local economy, for the
ongoing, living heritage of the Rangeley
Lakes region – the news is hopeful. Though
in the end, those interests may all be beside
the point. These Rapid River trout, nearly
the last of their kind in the United States, are
remarkable, magnificent creatures. They’re
worth saving for their own sake, for the sake
of magnificent nature.
Jim Collins, former editor of Yankee magazine, is a freelance writer based in Seattle and New Hampshire. He’s
written about nature and environmental issues for Outside,
Backpacker, AMC Outdoors, and The Nature Conservancy’s
Top: The introduction of smallmouth bass in the Rapid River created a sense of urgency to protect the brook
trout. Center: Dave Boucher with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife watched over the Rapid
River trout fishery. Bottom: The splendor of the Rangeley Lakes Region; here, the outflow of Pond in the River,
looking east over the pond.