The secret of Secret Pond

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GREENVILLE — I think if you want to be a good fisheries biologist, you must suffer from commitment issues. We should include this on the job application after “Important job related skills.” I’m not saying you need to be single and live in your mom’s basement, but change is constant when managing fish and managers must be able to react. We need to adjust regulations, stocking, and/or other management techniques to keep on top of it. Most importantly, we must monitor the fishery, especially after making a change, to determine the effectiveness of the management strategy.

A good example of the fisheries rollercoaster ride is Secret Pond right here in Greenville. This 14-acre wild brook trout pond has been a subject of our attention since the mid 1990s. In 1996, Secret Pond, Rum Pond, Indian Pond and Brown Pond were included in the “Fisheries Initiatives,” an IFW effort to create trophy fisheries. We implemented a 1-fish bag limit and 18-inch minimum length limit on these trout ponds and many others across the state to meet that goal. Spoiler alert: It really didn’t work too well.

In 2000, we trapnetted the pond and estimated the population at just over 1,100 fish. That’s a lot of trout. Next door, in the 15-acre Salmon Pond, we estimated just over 100 fish. More is not always better. After four years of ultra-protection, the pond was stuffed full of small, skinny trout. We took just one fish over 16 inches and estimated there were only 30 fish over 14 inches.

This was certainly not a trophy fishery and not really a quality pond. We felt the population needed to be closer to 200 trout to create good growth conditions. In 2003, we liberalized the regulations and returned to monitor the changes. The overall population was declining but there was little improvement in size quality and growth still lagged. In 2007, we adopted a special slot limit which focused the harvest on the abundant younger fish and required the release of the few larger, older fish. We have evaluated the pond three times since the new slot limit was implemented and the results have been impressive. The population has bounced between 200-300 fish over the period, and this year we estimated that 100 of those fish exceeded 14 inches and 15 were over 16 inches

We saw the same situation play out on many of these Fisheries Initiative waters across the state. The goal of creating trophy fisheries is certainly worthy of pursuit, in fact, it’s a priority. But, it’s important to realize that simply reducing or eliminating harvest will not necessarily create big fish, and all ponds are not created equal when it comes to potential for producing big fish. The key is find the right combination of management techniques and natural conditions to promote good growth and good survival. This leads to fast growing fish that live to older ages and larger sizes and we all want to live long lives and be well fed … just not necessarily at Mom’s place.

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