Most sport fishermen, if they have some years on them, develop a sixth sense about how big a fish is when it is on the line, even when the fish is still fighting deep.
Before fly fishing got a grip on me like a set of Vise-Grips, I used to be a trolling togue man. It was my late father’s thing, and I fished with him a lot. He could spend hours trolling dead slow with a sewn smelt behind a big Murray spoon and 10 colors of lead-core line in tow. In those days, some Maine lakes held a reputation for being a repository for lunker togue. Among them: Branch Lake, Beech Hill Pond, Tunk Lake and Sebec Lake and, of course, the Grand Lakes. Dad and I fished them all.
As a younger man I once shared a fishing boat with a friend on Sebec Lake. He, a novice lake trout angler, was fishing with an old rod and Sal Trout reel loaded with lead core line. The rig had belonged to his late father.
Glancing at it, I could tell that the line had seen better days, but I kept my mouth shut. I coached him in how to get his bait pulsating just off the bottom. In no time he had a hookup. Instantly, I knew that he was into a very heavy fish, probably bigger than any fish that I ever had on.
As he played the fish and I stood by with the net, I mumbled a prayer that the old lead-core line would hold up. My friend played it well — it had to be a 12-15 pound togue — but it was not to be. The line parted with a sickening “pop”when the heavy fish made its third run for the deep hole.
I was reminded of all of this after reading about some really impressive fish taken in Maine through the ice this winter. Two of them were togue. According to the Bangor Daily News, Gouldsboro angler Ryan Bridges iced a 40-inch, 25.5-pound togue in February at Tunk Lake. In any togue man’s language, that is a slab-sided old wall hanger. As I recall, the state togue record, from Beech Hill Pond, is a tad over 30 pounds.
Also this winter at Sebec Lake, an ice-fishing grandmother hooked and landed a lake trout in the 12-pound range.
All in all, this has been a winter that has brought ice anglers out on the ice in good numbers. Perhaps this is because of the deep cold snap that buttoned up a number of good fishing spots that had not been ice safe for a number of years.
Ice fishing college student Chris Parent from Biddeford brought home an impressive landlocked salmon in the 12-pound range. (The lake? He’s not telling.)
On Feb. 18, Tyler Smith got lucky when he hooked and landed a 23-pound muskie that measured 40 inches. Smith caught the fish at Wilson Pond in Monmouth.
Not to be outdone, Dustin Harrington from Hampden, while ice fishing Moosehead Lake, caught a big-bellied brook trout that tipped the scales at 6 pounds. Although this fish doesn’t come close to the state record brookie from Aroostook County that was in the 9-10-pound range, Harrington’s fish was by today’s standards a fish worthy of bragging rights.
Because fishing is by definition, an exercise so predicated on anticipation, these angling success stories can only serve to remind all of us who fish of the possibilities. C’mon spring.
The author is editor of the “Northwoods Sporting Journal.” He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program — “Maine Outdoors” — heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on “The Voice of Maine News – Talk Network.” He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com.