Waist Deep and Ice Cold

Its 6:30 in the morning and I am already an hour and half into my drive. After missing my alarm and running out the door with camera and waders in hand, I was on my way to Farmington, a 3 hour drive away. At 8 am, behind McDonalds I met Greg, a fishing guide from Portland who was there for the same thing I was. A little after 8, Paul Christman and the Maine Department of Marine Resources Salmon Egg Planting Team showed and our day was ready to begin. After the normal introductions we are off to the Sandy River, me riding shotgun in Greg’s 4Runner.

Early March is a hell of a time to hop into a river especially in Maine. Even with thermals, thick wool socks and neoprene waders, your feet will start going numb in minutes. The snow started to fall and the mountains came and went with the changing intensity of the precipitation. The four of us hopped down into the river with a large floating sled and were immediately waste deep, with me carrying my camera bag up in the air after realizing I underestimating the waters depth. Tramping through the current avoiding the holes and shelf ice, we came upon a shoal about 18 inches in depth; game time. We set the big black sled on an ice shelf and began to unload the tubes, pump, cones, and salmon eggs and set to plant more salmon eggs into the Sandy River than any other river in the North America.

Salmon a have particular way of spawning. When a female salmon is ready to release her eggs, they need to find a particular type of habitat. This is usually made up of about palm size cobbles with a fairly sandy substrate in a cold, clear, clean river. These kind of locations have become less common and much harder to reach for these fish, especially with the amount of dams that are now on these rivers. After a suitable spot has been found, the female salmon then turns on to her side and with big powerful thrusts makes a depression in the river bed (I’ve heard this be called “fluffing”). What is made is called a Redd, which is basically a salmon nest. Once created the female deposits her eggs, a male then comes from behind to fertilize and they cover up their young. In a few months, the eggs will emerge and the next generation will spend their time in the rocks till they are ready to make their way to the sea.

What Paul has done with his project is plant the eggs for the salmon, using a water pump, hose, and some homemade planting cones which act as very big syringes. First a site is selected, then the water pump is fired up, inserted into a cone and driven about 8 inches into the river bed. Once at its proper depth, eggs are then deposited and the cone is slowly removed, covering the eggs as it exits. This is repeated till between 50,000 -100,000 eggs have been planted, which takes roughly 30-45 minutes. When all is said and done, you could never tell that the eggs were there, which I learned makes them very hard not to step on. We did this on two sites on the Sandy River and made our way back to Farmington, where Greg and I continued to have some serious fly-fishing discussions.

Programs like this are incredibly exciting. Not just because they are with endangered fish or are using cool equipment, but rather that they are thinking outside the box and getting creative on how to create solutions to these ecological problems. If history has anything to say, it is that what we have been doing prior to this has not been working. So why are so many programs still fry stocking, something that has been done since the 1800s? What Paul has done is go out on a limb and decide to change the DMR’s approach on salmon stocking and restoration. There is no guarantee that this will work, but it is a step in the right direction.We as people are incredibly creative, from the fine art that hangs in our museums to the spaceships we build. So why can we not use this creativity to save some of our last great species on this planet?

It was a pleasure to spend the morning on the water seeing science in action and people using new procedures. I want to thank the DMR crew for having me out for the day and hopefully our paths will cross again soon, maybe angling for a few of the fish we planted this morning.