Day One: Exploring the North Maine Woods

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Photo: Dave Sherwood/wildfilephoto.com

The species name for brook trout--fontinalis--tells you almost all you need to know about the native trout of the East. Roughly translated, it's Latin for "from a spring."

More than anything else, brook trout are a fish of clean, cold, undisturbed streams and ponds. Which is why wild, truly native brookies are such a precious commodity. They not only look like jewels, they have become almost as rare.

Once abundant from southern Appalachia north across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, brook trout now occupy a fraction of their native range. Habitat destruction, water pollution, and competition from non-native fish have eliminated the colorful speckled trout from all but the most pristine waters. Continued human encroachment, natural gas development, and climate change threaten even these remnant populations.

To be sure, there are still plenty of brook trout to be caught in the East. But in most areas they are dull, hatchery-bred imposters. With one notable exception: Northern Maine.

Covering more than 10 million acres and sitting atop New England like a wild, woody crown, northern Maine is the last stronghold of brook trout in the East. Despite a long history of logging, much of it remains as Henry David Thoreau described it 150 years ago: "The wildest country."

At its core is the 3.7 million-acre North Maine Woods, a conglomerate of mostly private forest lands that is home to moose, black bear, lynx, landlocked Atlantic salmon, Arctic char, and the largest intact populations of native brook trout in the United States. To visit the North Maine Woods is to step back in time--to when wild brookies measured in pounds filled vast lakes and rivers alike--and to gain a first-hand appreciation of the need to preserve this unmatched resource for future generations.

Fortunately, it's a focus area for Trout Unlimited and Field & Stream, and one of our selections for the country's Best Wild Places. TU is working in Maine and elsewhere to protect intact populations, restore degraded habitats, and keep the eastern brook trout from disappearing altogether across its native range.