Fighting for Bluebacks and Brookies at Big Reed Pond

Reed PondImagine this: an old log cabin, on the shore of a remote pond full of brook trout, surrounded by old growth forest and conservation lands owned and protected by The Nature Conservancy, and you have it – cabin, pond, woods, hills, and trout- all to yourself.

Well, you don’t need to use your imagination because this place exits at Big Reed Pond (T8 R10). The cabin is owned by Igor and Karen Sikorsky of Bradford Camps and is available to folks who are staying at Bradford on Munsungan Lake. Bradford Camps gives you the experience of an historic sporting camp with plenty of modern conveniences from bathrooms in every cabin to extraordinarily good food. They even provide meals for those staying in their cabin on Big Reed Pond.

Igor flew my friend Gary Corson, who guided here for many years, and me into Big Reed for a day of blissful fishing in early June. We cruised the shoreline, with Gary doing most of the paddling, while I cast to eager brookies. It was constant catching, a day I will never forget.

Applying rotenone to Big ReedWe chose Big Reed for our fishing adventure for a very specific reason. It was reclaimed in 2011, in an attempt to rescue the terribly diminished population of Blueback trout (Artic Charr) there. Someone had inadvertently or illegally introduced smelts into the water, devastating the Bluebacks and also hurting the native brook trout there. The char population plummeted from 600 to less than 30, and the brook trout took a terrible hit too.

Blueback ready to return to Big ReedWith a lot of help from Igor, who flew more than 100 round-trips to the pond for this project, Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife attempted to capture the brookies and Bluebacks here and to kill everything else in the pond. It was an amazing effort, especially the flights in of engines, pumps, nets, 35-gallong barrels of chemicals, and loads of traps, canoes, and lumber. Perhaps the toughest job was when they hand-hauled a large boat a mile through the woods – by hand –  so it could be used for the project. The boat is still there – rest assured they are not going to haul it out!

Two National Guard helicopters (appropriately, they were Sikorsky Blackhawks), also assisted in this project. After the chemical was dumped into the pond and things settled back down, and with continued help from Igor, DIF&W restocked the pond with its native brookies and Bluebacks.

Until the day Gary and I fished there, no one had reported that the brook trout or the Bluebacks had successfully spawned since they were reintroduced four years ago.

A Grand Day of Fishing

Big Reed with IgorIgor delivered us to Big Reed about 9 am on a cloudy rainy day, and we launched a canoe and started fishing the shoreline almost immediately. Within 5 minutes, I landed the first small brookie – Mission accomplished! It was a first-year brook trout, about 5 inches long, proving that the restocked brookies were successfully spawning. Before the day ended, the sun came out and it got hot. But the weather didn’t matter to us or to the fish.

We caught small brookies all day long, all along the shore. Before the day was out, I would catch about 2 dozen of those first year trout and a few second year trout, 8 to 9 inches. We also saw a huge brook trout rise, just once, and we know that some of the restocked brook trout here are big. Karen Sikorsky caught a 20-inch brookie here last fall.

We also anchored in a couple of spots where we felt we might hook a Blueback trout, and fished with sinking line, but we had no luck. Less than 10 of the hundreds of Bluebacks restocked here have been caught, and we still have no evidence that the restocked Bluebacks are spawning – despite a monumental effort to find out. It will be terribly unfortunate, and discouraging, if after all this money and effort, the project fails to restore Bluebacks to this water. Bluebacks are in trouble in all of the handful of lakes and ponds where they exist in Maine. Big Reed is the state’s biggest effort yet to restore this fish to its native waters.

DIF&W Biologists

In the cabin at Big Reed is a diary where guests record their experiences here, including the fish they caught. DIF&W’s biologists, who have spent a lot of time here, recorded their work as well. I was particularly interested in two postings by Frank Frost, the Regional Fisheries Biologist who has been in charge of the fisheries restoration here.

On June 6, 2011, Frank wrote this in the journal: “Flew in 300 Charr and 850 brook trout. Charr were 7 – 9 inches average. Fish went in great! Big Reed is alive again. More fish coming on June 8.”

There is nothing recorded on June 8, but on June 11, there’s an entry simply noting that “Frank hiked in brook trout fry to tributaries.”

On October 19, 2011, Frank wrote, “Reintroduced 200 Artic charr and 600 brook trout. Charr are 9 – 11 inches and most are native, ready to spawn in 1 – 2 weeks. We put them all on one shoal on the south shore. The trout were split nearly evenly among three tributaries.”

I asked Frank for an explanation and more information, based on these entries, and here’s what he told me.

Frank Frost (comments in italics)

Frank FrostOn why there was nothing recorded on June 9.

We returned (to Big Reed) on June 9 to release additional fish; your sister Edie was there with me that day (at that time Edie was Information and Education Director for DIF&W). I really enjoyed that day with Edie – she was a big supporter of our work. I was not consistent in logging in the camp book as I didn’t always enter the camp when I worked there. I believe the day Edie was with us, we did not get into the camp at all. The day I hiked in by myself was actually June 10.

On the October 19 camp diary entry.

The number of charr stocked this date was 340, not 200.

Where did you stock the brook trout on June 6?

In Tributary 1, upstream and downstream of large meadow near head of drainage. Tributary 2, in four active beaver pons at head of drainage.

Why did you stock the fry up in the tributaries on June 11 and October 19?

After reclamation, there were no other fish predators in these tributaries and they have excellent nursery habitat for brook trout. I felt survival would be best in these habitats under these conditions.

Please explain the phrase, applied to the Blue backs, “most are native.”

I do not recall writing that “most are native.” I do recall that the charr were very close to spawning in the hatchery so the word “native” may have actually been “gravid” or something similar to indicate the closeness to spawning. All of the Artic charr returned to Big Reed Pond were the original stock that came from Big Reed Pond prior to reclamation in October 2010.


Well, there is no conclusion yet. We hope and pray those Bluebacks are spawning. But while we wait for that to be proven, Big Reed awaits you for an outstanding outdoor adventure in one of the prettiest places in Maine.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.