The spring spawn

Recently, on my Sunday night radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” my show co-host and fishing buddy Bob Leeman stirred up a piscatorial hornet’s nest. Leeman, a knowledgeable and confident sort, especially when the subject is fish or fishing, got us on the subject of the spawning habits of native Maine fish.

He quizzed me about which fish spawn in spring and which spawn in the fall. Can you answer that?

I got most of them right, but not all. Most of the so-called “rough fish” like perch, bass and pickerel, spawn in the spring. Some nest; some don’t. The female pickerel simply broadcasts her spawn upon aquatic vegetation and then the males do their thing.

Maine’s native salmonids trout, togue and landlocked salmon, on the other hand, spawn in the fall. Bob got in trouble with a caller who claimed to be a fish culturist. He took Bob to the woodshed for his statement that brown trout, a non-native salmonid, spawn in the spring, unlike their Maine cousins.

Bob stuck to his guns. “Look, I have witnessed a female brown trout heavy with eggs nesting in a brook tributary to Branch Lake in Ellsworth in the spring,” Bob insisted. As show host, I felt obliged to mediate the squabble, or maybe just furnish a set of dueling pistols to settle the matter.

In fact, the brown trout is an invasive species, its eggs having been brought to this country from Germany in the late 1800s. Its German name is Bacforelle. Wikipedia reports that it spawns in the fall.

Sorry, Bob.

Here’s the rest of the story. Whitefish spawn in October, when the water temps hit about 45 degrees. Of all the spawning habits of native Maine fish, the lowly bottom-feeding cusk is the most novel. Unlike any of the other fish the cusk is the most promiscuous. It, in a sense, practices “free love.” In one big spawning free-for-all, the male and female cusk gather in one big group and have at it. No nesting for these rounders. And while all of the other Maine fish procreate in either spring or fall, when the green-up begins or the foliage begins to turn, cusks wait until the dark days of late winter when the ice is thick and the water coldest.

The ugly duckling of Maine’s freshwater fishery, the suckers, begin looking for riffles in brooks and streams about mid-spring and drop their spawn (a good place to find feeding brookies).

By the way, insofar as I could determine, rainbow trout, another non-native fish to Maine, is actually one of the few salmonids that spawn in spring.

Perhaps that spring day on the Branch Lake tributary when Mr. Leeman spotted the spawning brown trout it was actually a rainbow trout, or a brown trout with an identity crisis or a case of species envy.

You just never know.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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