August 5, 2008
Sturgeon Sightings Picking Up
By JOHN HOLYOKE
Atlantic salmon have earned lead billing on the Penobscot River, and striped bass have become a highly sought fish over the past several years. Old-timers can tell you about the productive smelting expeditions they took as kids ... and that some still enjoy.
But lurking at the bottom of the Penobscot for untold years has been another fish, one that is neither glamorous nor attractive.
It is the sturgeon.
As we reported on Saturday, the folks up at the University of Maine have been studying shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon for the past couple of years, and graduate student Stephen Fernandes will defend his thesis (based on that sturgeon work) on Wednesday.
Until that study began, I hadn't heard much talk about sturgeon in the Penobscot. And since I started writing about the study, I've learned plenty.
Among the things I've learned: Folks are seeing them more often lately, but have been spying the large bottom-dwellers for years.
I received one e-mail from Phil Emery, the legendary longtime boys swim coach at Bangor High School (win 22 state titles in 39 years of coaching - and another as a competitor at the same school - and you deserve to be offered the title "legendary," even if Emery himself won't likely accept it).
Emery is best known for motivating and training swimmers, but is also an avid angler who has fished more Atlantic salmon rivers than most.
He passed along a memory from his earlier angling days, during which he was fishing for stripers.
"I saw a fish porpoise and it was huge, maybe six feet or more," Emery wrote. "It had that dinosaur-looking back and was gone as soon as it appeared. One of those things you see and then wonder [if] you really did see it."
Emery wasn't satisfied with wondering, so he did a bit of research.
"I went home and looked someplace in our World Book encyclopedia and eventually realized that I had seen an Atlantic sturgeon," he wrote.
Another reader told me he'd had a similar experience, but much more recently ... like Saturday.
"I was fishing for stripers at Fisherman's Park in Brewer and saw a huge fish breach completely out of the water," wrote Jeff Billington of Kenduskeag. "I assumed it was an Atlantic salmon, but after reading your column I realize it was an Atlantic sturgeon. What an incredible sight."
And finally, another reader who lives in Orrington wrote to report that he hasn't seen many stripers surfacing, as he usually does during the summer months, but has begun to see sturgeon instead.
"Just within the past few days sturgeon are beginning to breach the surface, producing massive splashes upon re-entry," Mike Enos wrote.
Speaking of sturgeon ...
On Monday I received an e-mail from Gayle Zydlewski, one of the faculty advisors for graduate student Stephen Fernandes' research project on Penobscot River sturgeon.
Zydlewski passed along a suggestion that makes perfect sense, and something our readers should consider.
Although I mentioned the endangered status of shortnose sturgeon in Saturday's column, I never really came out and explained what that means to the average angler.
Here then, is that disclaimer: If you accidentally catch a sturgeon (shortnose or Atlantic), for heaven's sake PUT IT BACK IN THE WATER AS SOON (and gently) AS POSSIBLE.
That should go without saying, I figured, but Zydlewski was right: It never hurts to remind some folks.
There are not a whole lot of sturgeon out there. They need our help. And while the chance of catching one is quite slim, knowing what you should do in case of an accidental hookup is important.
Release. Release. Release.
That ought to cover it.
Salmon trap count mounting
Earlier this summer I told you that adult Atlantic salmon were returning to the Penobscot River at a pace not seen in years.
Although the dog days of summer have created an expected lull, salmon are still trickling up the Penobscot, and a 2,000-fish run is within sight.
According to Gayland Hachey's Web site, a total of 1,977 salmon had returned to the Veazie salmon trap as of Monday. The highest total on that date over the previous four years was 1,249 fish in 2004.
I cite Hachey's interesting Web site often, and have begun hearing from folks who want to log on for themselves.
Folks interested in monitoring the site to find out if the 2,000- fish barrier is passed can do so by visiting www.mainelyreelseats.com.
An added benefit of logging on: You can learn more about salmon fishing on the river, and browse Hachey's entire site.
Hachey is a talented craftsman who owns a fly shop in Veazie, and if you're in the market for a beautiful original reel seat, chances are good that he's got exactly what you're looking for.
And after you browse a bit, just move to the bottom of the home page and you'll find the updated trap numbers.
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