Straight to the top perch

By John Holyoke, BDN Staff
Posted May 29, 2009, at 11 p.m.

Many of Maine’s freshwater fishing records have been on the books for so long, they’ve taken on mythical status.

Take Hollis Grindle’s 1958 togue — a 31½-pound behemoth out of Beech Hill Pond — for instance.

Since December, however, one category of the state’s fishing record book has undergone significant shuffling.

The reason is simple, but the tale is not nearly so straight forward.

For now, let’s just say that a legendary fish, one that a generation of anglers grew up hearing about (and more importantly, believing in), wasn’t what it seemed to be.

Before we get to that tale of intrigue, however, let’s give credit where it’s due.

On Thursday morning, Dan Dolloff of Monroe became the latest angler (the third in the past five months, to be exact) to catch an apparent state-record white perch.

Here’s what happened to Dolloff on Ellis Pond in Brooks:

“I was just going to see if I could catch a couple for a white perch feed,” Dolloff said. “I caught it on the first cast and we never had a bite the rest of the morning.”

Dolloff caught the fish on a live golden shiner.

And as it turns out, he never had his perch feed. Instead his monster perch — the only fish of the day — is going on a wall.

“We fished there for about an hour and a half and I started thinking about [how big the fish might be],” Dolloff said.

When he measured the fish and learned it was 18½ inches long, he began to wonder if he should keep fishing or head to shore to look for a certified scale.

“I said, ‘This could be close,’” Dolloff said. “So we packed up and went to the store.”

At J.P. Wentworth General Store in Brooks, he learned that his white perch weighed 3.24 pounds. It had a girth of 13ø inches and measured 6½ inches from top to bottom.

Records are set by weight, and Dolloff’s perch surpassed the 3.04-pounder that Jeff Paquette of Freedom caught in Ellis Pond on Dec. 19, and the subsequent record-breaker, Chris Bubier of Wilton’s 3.13-pounder on Jan. 24.

Dolloff talked to a Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife fisheries biologist who told him the certified weight would qualify as a record. The Maine Sportsman, a monthly outdoors newspaper, compiles and maintains the official records.

Dolloff said when the potential record-breaker struck, he didn’t think he had hooked a perch.

“It was an awesome fighter. I thought I had a bass on,” he said.

Ah. A bass.

This may be the right time to explain the answer to a question many folks undoubtedly have been asking.

Why, when so many Maine fishing records are so rarely broken, have three anglers set perch records in the last five months?

I’m glad you asked.

And Peter Bourque has your answer.

Bourque is the DIF&W’s director of fisheries program development, and he knows a good fish tale when he hears one.

This story begins in 1949. Maybe. Some folks say it begins in 1959. What’s certain is this: Maine’s anglers were hoodwinked.

“What happened is the original, supposed record [white perch], which was held by a Mrs. [Earl] Small from Waterville, back in I think ’49, was really misidentified,” Bourque said.

That’s right. Misidentified.

“[The mounted fish] was in the old state museum before they built the new building. We had Bob Foye, who was the director of fisheries, try to say for years that it was a bass, not a white perch. But it never went beyond that.”

Never, that is, until four or five years ago, when DIF&W’s bass experts, Dennis McNeish and Rick Jordan, did a bit of detective work.

“[They] went over to archives and looked at [the mounted fish] and found it had been doctored up to look like a white perch,” Bourque said.

“So for all those years [the record was] 4 pounds, 10 ounces,” he said. “Not a big bass. But a gigantic white perch.”

That led to a bit of a problem: Many anglers thought they already knew what the state-record perch was, and over the ensuing years many had likely caught fish that would have been worth measuring and weighing.

Instead, those fish ended up being viewed as nice perch. Nice … but substandard when compared to Mrs. Small’s gargantuan berch … or should we call it a pass?

“They were throwing them back or eating them up, saying, ‘No way, we’re never going to beat that one,’” Bourque said.

Not anymore.

Salmon swimming strong

As spring turns to summer, I’m often asked the same question by anglers interested in the Penobscot River.

“How are the salmon doing?”

Most of the time, I’ve got a pretty good idea how many Atlantic salmon have returned to the Veazie Dam’s fish trap. And most of the time, one man deserves all the credit for the knowledge I pass off as my own.

Oliver Cox, a fishery biologist for the Bureau of Sea-Run Fisheries and Habitat of the Department of Marine Resources, issues a weekly salmon report that details the goings-on at the Veazie Dam.

Many avid river-watchers and salmon conservationists are coming to rely on Cox’s brief updates and the accompanying chart.

This week, Cox reports that action at the trap has picked up.

In the week since his last report, 86 salmon reached the trap. That brings the year-to-date total to 138 adult returnees.

While still early in the season, the 138 salmon that have returned marks the second-highest total (as of May 28) over the previous 31 years. Only last year (180 returnees as of May 28) was higher.

In addition, this year’s total to-date dwarfs the 10-year average (53 salmon) and 31-year average (29 salmon) as of the same date.

During the most recent week, trap-tenders found more than 25 fish in the trap on two separate days.

Here’s hoping conditions remain favorable and the Penobscot enjoys a banner year of returning salmon.

Outdoor bargain available

Each year, thousands of visitors to the Katahdin Iron Works Jo-Mary Multiple Use Forest take advantage of the recreational opportunities that are available there.

This year, the folks at North Maine Woods Inc., which manages the area, is offering a special deal in response to the financial crunch many folks are finding themselves in.

Al Cowperthwaite, the executive director of North Maine Woods, explained last week that his organization is offering a two-for-one admission coupon through Piscataquis County businesses for use at the KI Jo-Mary Multiple Use Forest.

Children under 15 and seniors over 70 get in free, and all others can get in at a two-for-one rate from June 1 through Oct. 15. The deal also covers day use of the sand beach and boat launch at Jo-Mary Campground.

The normal fee is $6 for residents and $10 for nonresidents.

A quick note: The offer is only good at the KI-Jo Mary parcel. Entry to the vast North Maine Woods area farther north are not part of the coupon deal.

According to a North Maine Woods press release, the coupons will be available at participating businesses surrounding the KI Jo-Mary Forest region. The discount is not to be used in conjunction with overnight camping, but there is no limit to the number of visits an individual can make in 2009.

The KI Jo-Mary Forest encompasses 175,000 acres of private land and contains 70 lakes and ponds.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/05/29/outdoors/straight-to-the-top-perch/ printed on September 2, 2014