Bangor angler catches an Arctic char. Here’s why they’re special.
By Pete Warner, Bangor Daily News Staff
Maine anglers enjoy sharing their fishing stories.
Paul Cook of Bangor — some of you may remember the big man from Lubec from his days playing basketball at the University of Maine — was among the first to respond to our request for fabulous fish photos.
In today’s offering, Cook shows off one of the state’s rarer game species, the Arctic char, which also is sometimes called a Blueback trout.
“Elusive Blueback Trout at approximately 90 feet. Released safely. Piscataquis County. 13 inches. First one I ever caught,” Cook said of his catch.
Frank Frost, the regional fisheries supervisor in the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Ashland office, is the state’s go-to man for Arctic char.
“They’re a rare fish across the state of Maine, but where they do exist, they’re in healthy numbers,” said Frost, who explained the species can be found in only 14 of our lakes and ponds.
“They’re scattered far and wide, mostly in the interior highlands, in western and northern Maine,” Frost said, noting that there are five or six bodies of water in Piscataquis County alone that hold the char.
Frost said Maine is at the southern edge of the fish’s range and is the only place in the lower 48 states that has a native population of Arctic char. The fish are much more plentiful in Quebec, northern Canada and in the Arctic.
Even so, they aren’t often at the top of the list of targeted species for Maine anglers. The char hang out in cold, deep water.
Many times, anglers fishing in those kinds of lakes are more likely going after brook trout and encounter char.
“Most of the char that are caught are caught incidental to people fishing for brook trout,” Frost said. “There are very few people who are out there targeting char.”
He did say anglers from other areas of the country, looking to check off the species on their fish bucket list, are among those who target char.
And don’t worry, if you happen to catch a char while fishing for brook trout, it likely will be obvious.
“When people do catch a char, it’s almost a no brainer that it’s a char and not a brook trout,” Frost said. “If you had two side by side, you’d definitely see the difference.”
He explained that brook trout have telltale wormlike markings on their backs, while such marks are faint or non-existent on Arctic char.
Thankfully, the natural dynamics in place at the 14 lakes and ponds that hold Arctic char, and the habits of Maine anglers, mean there are plenty there for those who might want to pursue them.
“There’s such a high catch-and-release ethic right now among anglers across the state, there’s no concerns about people catching them, handling them, hooking mortality or keeping them,” Frost said.
Arctic char reproduce and thrive as long as they have the proper coldwater habitat. In fact, they have developed the ability to morph into various distinct populations depending upon their location and surroundings.
In one lake in Iceland, there are four different Arctic char morphs, each of which lives independently and thrives after having adjusted to a particular kind of habitat.
Thanks to Paul Cook for the photo submission and to Frank Frost for his expertise on this lesser-known Maine game fish.
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