Originally published in the Fall 2018 edition of the Release Journal.
Lac-Frontière is a small municipality of 175 inhabitants located in the Appalachians on the border of Quebec and the state of Maine, just south of Montmagny. The municipality is of course located on the shores of the lake that has the same name. Between 1842 and 1849 the place was known as the English Lake due to the presence of Americans and British who were staying there during the surveying of the Canada-US border. It is in 1919 that the municipality is officially founded; this means that next year will be Lac-Frontière 100th birthday. Back in the days, the BC Howard company erected up to 4 sawmills around the lake. The railroad was used to supply the mills, the population of this small village will reach up to 3000 inhabitants at its highest point. Today there is not much left of this prosperous period except the remains of the railway bridge and many 100-year-old timber logs that lay on the bottom of the lake.
An error in fisheries management
The lake itself is small. Its area is 1.1 km2, but the Great North West Black River which feeds it winds from Talon Lake for more than 20 kilometers. Unlike most water bodies in Quebec, Lake Frontière is not included in the St. Lawrence River watershed but rather in the Saint John River watershed. This geographical feature had important repercussions that had been underestimated by the authorities of the Ministry of Tourism, Recreation, Hunting and Fishing in the 1970s when they determined that Lake Frontière would be one of the sites of their muskellunge stocking program.
Between 1970 and 1979, the Quebec Ministry of Tourism, Recreation, Hunting and Fishing stocked a total of 6250 muskellunge from 7 to 20 cm in the lake. The goal was to offer a species for sport fishing to the population and to reduce the presence of white sucker. They believed that the muskellunge would remain confined to the lake and the river, but after a few years they learned that the muskellunge was way more adventurous.
Today, Lake Frontière muskellunge is found everywhere in the Saint John River watershed. Muskies stocked in Lake Frontière has colonized the waters of the Saint John River in New Brunswick, and because of that we have the Muskies Canada St. John River chapter today. Muskellunge is now caught in East Lake near La Pocatière and Beau Lake in Témiscouata, Qc.
Each year a Muskie Fishing tournament is held in Fort Kent, Maine with awards totaling $ 35,000 USD. Although Muskies are considered by the state of Maine to be an invasive species (no size limit or number of capture) and to record a catch at the Fort Kent tournament Muskies has to be killed, the tournament organizers request recommend that muskies under 38″ should be released. In New Brunswick, the Muskies are still considered has an invasive species, but in recent years some progress has been made thanks to the involvement of our members in St. John River.
We know today and probably at that time too that the arrival of a non-native species in an environment can have serious consequences. But after 40 years, we must face the fact that it will be impossible to go back and that we should rather embrace the benefits of this past error.
The lake itself is very shallow. In the middle of the lake there is only 9 feet of water. There are many weed beds all around the lake. At the northeast end of the lake there is a large marshy and very shallow area that is full of wildlife. On a canoe trip in the small pond you can see ducks, herons, bitterns, beavers, muskrats, frogs, and of course furrows in the water of muskies fleeing in front of the boat. On the other hand, some pool in the river are more than 20 feet deep.
I spent the summers of my youth on the shore of Lake Frontière. My parents built a cottage there in 1981. At the time, there were very few cottages around the lake and it was not uncommon to see moose come to cool down in the marshes in the summer. The state of Maine has a phenomenal moose population and the border is less than one kilometer from the lake, so moose often cross it. By the way, every October during moose hunting season, the border becomes like Vimy Ridge in 1917 with watchtowers and hunters on the lookout every 300 meters. Today there are many more cottages around the lake which represents an environmental challenge to avoid the increase of eutrophication of the lake.
Muskies in the lake are well established, but we can say that the better days are behind us. In the 1980s Lake Frontière delivered its largest muskies. It was the growth peak of the stocked muskie, they had abundant food and relatively low fishing pressure. In the 1980s, my father captured two specimens over 40 inches (41″ and 42″).
Catches of 44″ and 47″ have also been reported. At that time, you could fish for perch from the shore and catch an impressive number of yellow perch in good sizes. This is not scientific, but it seems that the quantity and size of yellow perch has greatly decreased since then as has the size of the muskellunge too. Today a big Muskie of Lake Frontière is 35-37 inches. Average catches are between 26 and 30 inches.
Release and regulation
The daily catch limit and possession limit of muskellunge on Lake Frontière is 2 per person. There is no size limit.
At the beginning of my engagement with Muskies Canada, I thought that if the fishermen on Lake Frontière were all practicing catch and release, the quality of the fishery would only improve in the next few years. But since then I’ve learned more about it and I understand that the lake’s muskies population is healthy but has likely reached a ceiling in the balance between the amount of food available and the number of predators competing for this food. If a size limit required anglers to release all catches greater than 32 inches and take a good amount of smaller muskellunge (say, larger than 26 “), perhaps after some years we could hope to capture specimens over 40 ” again. But know that I have no degree in biology and my knowledge of fisheries management are very limited so what I think is worth what it is worth.
However, the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks will do nothing to regulate the muskie fishery on Lake Frontière because it would go against the muskellunge management done by the Department of Inland Fisheries. and Wildlife of Maine – Division of Fisheries and Hatcherie. As explained above, since the Lake Frontière watershed is not completely contained in Quebec, they can not control what is happening in Maine or New Brunswick. Quebec neighbours would not take well a regulation that will go against their own regulations.
Fishing the muskellunge on this lake on a good day can be a lot of fun. It is not uncommon to take several muskellunge in one day. This small lake in southeastern Quebec is still being talked about today as the source of the muskie invasion of the Saint John River, but it is also the source of my passion for muskie fishing. It’s my lake. I know all the bays, the depth of each meander of the river and I go back there every summer.