The sweet of the year started May 17. The week of cold north winds did a 180-degree shift, and a south wind moved in where I live at Branch Lake. Overnight the hardwoods in the higher elevations turned from somber gray to a delightful lime green. The forsythia blossomed. And the first black fly wave came calling. Ah, spring!
For us trout fishermen, all of the aforementioned are the harbingers we wait for 11 months of the year. It is the angler’s prelude, the necessary ingredients for the debut of trouting time. Alas, though, all is not well with the sweet of the year.
The Baxter State Park Advisory Council, which is made up of the state attorney general, the conservation commissioner and the commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, has elected to chain the gates at Baxter Park until the first of July in response to concerns about the COVID-19 virus.
This is a disappointing inconvenience if you had plans to hike or camp out in the park during May or June. If you are a trout fisherman, it is like somebody gut-punching you. Maine is blessed with a precious wild trout fishery and Baxter Park is ground zero for trout waters. The park encompasses 155 waters, most of which support a trout fishery. Of these ponds, 41 are Maine Heritage Trout Waters.
The unschooled may say, “Well, why not just wait until July or August to do your trout fishing?” Nope. That won’t work. June is trout fishing month, period. Ask any trout angler you know.
The sensible compromise would have been to at least allow Maine residents through the gate before July 1. And the only contact point is when a visitor checks in at the gate; after that, it’s one big social distance exercise in the woods and waters of our favorite park. The Baxter Togue Pond gate could have been automated like some North Maine Woods gates, or park employees could have been safeguarded with the same precautions taken by retail outlets and grocery stores.
Although Percival Baxter intended that park policy be insulated from gubernatorial whimsy by giving the Advisory Council triumvirate unilateral authority, we really don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. The park director may have insisted on park closure, or Governor Mills may have brought pressure to bear.
Of the three park policymakers, the logical opponent of this “trout lockout” would be Maine Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Judy Camuso. You would think that any fish and wildlife commissioner, who is by oath and job description an advocate for anglers and hunters, would fight hard against this blanket closure of the park and the resulting lockout of trout fishermen from their “sweet of the year.”
Commissioner Camuso and the other council members owe us an explanation. So far, she has been accessible and transparent. We hope to hear from her. It is not too late to right this mistake and to open the park and south gate as soon as possible to at least Maine residents.