Presumpcot Fish Writings
note :This is the beginning of an anthology of writings that pertain to fish that once ascended the Presumpscot River. This anthology is a work in progress. It’s inspiration in the ongoing dicussions and court cases over restoring the fisheries of the Presumpscot River watershed. Friends of Sebago Lake believe total reconnection of anadramous fishes from the Atlantic Ocean to the farthest reaches of the Sebago Lake watershed of western Maine is good for the environment and good for Maine.
The Story of the Presumpscot. Pre 1700
Over three hundred years ago an early visitor to Maine described a river similar to the Presumpscot in which ”…. At a particular season of the year the fish….ascend in such great numbers that a person could fill fifty thousand barrels a day if he could endure the labor. They crowd upon one another to a depth of one foot. They are drawn out as if they are water”
Fishing in New Hampshire by Jack Noon p.30
" Though there are apparently no documents in existence that gives a sense of the numbers of salmon in the Piscataqua drainage during the early decades of white settlement, in 1717 Merchant Archibald MacPhaedris wrote an account of the salmon to be had "in our new plantations about 40 miles from this town" at "Casko." His enthusiasm for salmon -fishing possibilities might have mirrored the conditions on the Piscataqua a century earlier- before white settlers had commenced
fishing for salmon:
[U]pon ye sea side.... there is more salmon and all manner of fish than in any place in ye World...
The River that leads through ye land, where all your Shipping lays......, is full of Salmon, that in ye season you may take 1000 tuns here. [ A tun is a container holding 252 gallons.] They are sole [sold] for 20/ [(probably) shillings per] Barrell." 15"
Natheniel Hawthorne Diary 1825-1830
“On the way home from Frye’s Island, Mr. Ring caught a black spotted trout that was almost a whale. It weighed before it was cut open , eighteen and one half pounds” A few years later Hawthoren writes
“Acres of water were boiling with smelts and salmon but a boat lenghths away, and very ordinary and everyday fishermen werereeling in twelve to 18 pound fish.
Bridgton News Oct. 12, 1877
All accounts agree that the Sebago Salmon are running up Songo and Crooked River in unusual numbers, so plentiful in fact that one informant says when the gate is shut at Edes Falls , one can step in and pinch them with ones hands.....specimens attain weight of 18 to 20 pounds
‘Bridgton News May 23, 1879 8 to 10 boats find constant employment in Songo. Catch has exceeded those of former years. One gentleman had 9almon largest weighed 11 and one half pounds.
US Fish Comm. reports 1871 p.465
“About forty years ago fresh-water salmon were caught in great numbers in Sebago lake.
The Indians in earlier times speared them in immense quantities in autumn on the shoals below the outlet; the early colonists caught them by the cartload during the spawning period, but the thoughtlessness and carelessness of civilization have reduced then so much n number that they are now quite rare. Still, a few may be take with the minnow as they run up the rivers into the lake, and may then be taken with the fly. Some weighing thirteen and one half pounds have been taken with the minnow. Last summer one was caught of ten pound weight.
Bridgton News May 1877
Fishermen line the Songo.... Ten, eight to ten pounders is a good days catch.
New England Magazine- Early 1900’s, Charles Beane-Earliest Open Waters
“Go up to Sandy Beach or White’s Bridge in the fall spawning season and behold something worth going miles to see. Thousands of big salmon, some of themwould tip the beam at better than thirty pounds, some say fifty apiece, lying with their noses upstream, well with your reach....
New York Times Nov 8, 1907
“During the late fishing season at Sebago Lake , Maine. It was no common occurrence to catch a fifteen pound land locked salmon, and one weighed
as much as twenty two pounds and one half pound, which was the record catch of the year.
On Presumpscot Fishways.
Maine Fish Commissioner 1875
On success of fishway at Cumberland Mills- Mr Hammond,
“ I have supposed that your fishways were intended for fishes in the upper walks of life, such as salmon, trout,@c,@c, but I find our new fishway is used by the mudsills, the suckers, the chubs, the puts, even the lampreys.”
Maine Fish Commissioner 1875
“Our esteemed friend, Hon. George Warren,” has given us an admirably built fishway at Saccarrappa”
John Warren diary June 17, 1893
“Yesterday met the fish commissioner by appointment at Sebago Lake upper dam to view fishways and to see what could be done to better, at this point they concluded that the present fishway was entirely without merit of any consequencem and that a new one would have to be constructed in order to meet the requirements of the present commissioner” August 14, 1893 Mr Charles Slvester returned for the head yesterday, having finished the fishway.. Aug 18,1893. “ It is also distinctly understood that the fishway he builds will be acceptable to the fish commissioners. I am of the opinion that it will operative and work well at lt least much better that theold. Mr. Weston’s suggestion to the fishe commissioner is that Mr. Abner Batchelder be appointed fish warden having charge of the fishway and its surroundings , with view of having the law properly enforced, and to this I agree.”
Fish Commissioner Reports- 1894
“From time immemorial till within 6 years, the salmon have been speared and netted on theri breeding grounds and have dwindled to a former remnant of what they formerly were. “
Bridgton News- May 28, 1880 - ”May1- 10th is best for salmon run on Songo River. many of the fish taken on the river are said to bear unmistakeable evidence of spear thrusts known as the Crooked River Mark”
US Fish Comm. reports 1871 p.465
Others of much greater weight have been speared at night while in the act of spawning. the spear in the hand of the poacher has contributed more than any other cause to the scarcity of this fish. Two years ago two poachers speared in three nights in Songo River more than half a ton of salmon. No fish, however prolific can long stand such a drain as this upon its numbers.
U.S. Fish Commissioner Reports- 1872-73 lix
"Like the shad, it ascends from the ocean in early spring into the fresh or brackish waters, and has the advantage of breeding in quiet ponds, instead of requiring a river for its development. In former times , and before the introduction of dams across the streams, this fish was very abundant along the coast, and supplied an important article of fooed to thepeopled , both fresha dn salted.
The Alewife,In many respects, is superior , in commercial and economical value, to the herring, being a much larger and sweeeter fish. and more like the true shad in this respect. Of all American fish none are so easily progated as the alewife; and waters from which it has been driven by the erection of impassable dams can be be fully restocked in the course of a few years, simply by transporting in sufficient numbers of the mature fish, taken at the mouth of the stream to a point above the dams, or placing them in ponds or lakes. Here they will spawn, and return to the sea after a short interval, making their way over any dams which carry any flow. The young alewives after a season descend, and return, if not prevented, at the end of their period of immaturity, to the place where they were spawned.
In addition to the value of the alewife as an article of food,it is of much service in ponds and rivers as nutriment for trout and salmon and other valuable fishes. The young derive their sustenance from minute crustaceans and other objects to diminutive for the larger fish, and in their great abundance are greedily devoured by other species around them. In waters inhabitated by pickeral and trout, these fish find in the young alewives sufficient food to prevent their preying upon each other. They are also, for the same reason, seviceable in ponds containing black bass.
It is in another still more important connection that we should consider the alewife. It is well known that within the last thirty or forty years the fisheries of cod, haddock and hake, along our coast, have measureably diminshed, and in some places ceased entirely. Enough may be taken for local consumption, but localities which formely furnished the material for an extensive commerce in dried fish have entirely abandoned. Various causes have been assigned for this codition of things, and , among others, the alleged diminution of sea hering. After a careful consideration of the subject, however, I am strongly inclined to believe that it is due to the diminution, and in many instances , to the extermination of the alewives.
As already remarked , before the construction of dams in the tidal rivers , the alewife was found in incredible numbers along our coast, probably not remaining far from shore, except when moving up into the fresh water,and, at any rate, spending a considerable interval off the mouths of the rivers either at the time of th their journey upward or on their return. The young too, after returning from the ocean, usually swarmed in the same localities, and thus furnished for the larger speciess a bait, such as is not suppleid at present by any other fish, the sea herring not accepted . we know that the alewife is particularly attractive as a bait to other fishes, especially for cod and mackeral. ....
The coincidence, at least , in the erection of the dams, and the enormous diminution in the number of alewives and the decadence of the in shore cod fishery, is certainly very remarkable. It is probable that, also, that the mackeral-fisheries have suffered in the same way, as these fish find in the young menhaden and alewives an attractive bait..
The same remarks as to the agency of the alewife in attracting the deep sea fishes to the shores, and especially near the mouths of rivers, apply in a proportional degree to shad and salmon."
Relationship of Anadramous Fishes and Land Nutrient Interchange
Size of trees recorded in colonial times
1770 Dartmouth College 270 white Pine butt to top
1817 Lancaster, New Hampshire white pine 264 feet
1736 Dunstable white pine tall and strait 7 feet 8 inches in diameter at butt end.
Statistics from Fishing in New Hampshire by Jack Noon p.21
There was a direct relationship between the size of the trees and the amount of nutrients which were brought from the ocean to inland waters by fish migrations.
“A study of Alaskan salmon on the Kenai Peninsula trace a “stable isotope signature” of nitrogen from the spawning salmon. The study found the isotope showed up in the needles of white spruce in a manner “inversely proportionately to the distance from the salmon spawning streams” and correlated this with radio ollared bears. -- the delivery system.
The relevance of this study to new Hampshire, without brown bears, lies in the principle. All anadramous fish that died inland during spawning season added their ocean accumulated nutrients to the ecosystem. generally speaking” Jack Noon p.24