Onezime Dufour says he has been fishing the St. John River for most of his 75 years. Only recently, however, has he begun targeting the biggest fish in that river: Muskellunge.
In recent years, the fishing in the St. John and its tributaries has changed drastically, as muskies that were stocked into a lake in Quebec worked their way into the watershed.
The population of other species has dwindled as the top-end predators set up shop. And though most anglers long for the days when brook trout dominated, many have done just what Dufour has done for the past four years: They’ve become muskie fishermen.
On May 15, the 75-year-old Madawaska man etched his name in the state record books, when he caught a monster muskie while fishing the St. John near St. David.
“I saw him jump and I didn’t want to lose it, so I went to the bank,” Dufour said. “I wanted to be sure that he wasn’t going to Canada, on the other side.”
“I kept him on my side. I was lucky. I had another guy with me [to help]” Dufour said.
Dufour had been trolling with a friend when the muskie hit his 7-inch, blue-and-white Rapala lure. It didn’t take him long to figure out he had a special fish on the end of his line.
It took a little longer — about 30 minutes — for Dufour to actually land it.
“After I saw him next to the boat, I thought it looked like a state record,” Dufour said. “It looked four feet long, and that was a state record.”
Dufour knows his history: The existing state record was 48 inches long, and weighed 31.69 pounds. Steve Thibodeau caught that fish at Glazier Lake on Sept. 23.
Dufour’s fish was also 48 inches long. He took the muskie to the IGA store in Madawaska and the certified scale confirmed the state record he suspected: The fish weighed 33 pounds.
When Dufour arrived at the IGA, he said the fish instantly drew a crowd.
“Everyone was following us to see how much that thing weighed,” he said with a laugh.
Dufour said the largest muskie he had caught previously was 42 inches long. He returned to the river a few days after catching the record fish and landed a 32-incher.
While many anglers would have delivered the muskie to a taxidermist, Dufour had other plans.
“I’m going to eat it. I don’t want to lose that,” he said. “[I cook it] just like you cook a haddock or something like that: You make a filet and put it in flour and cook it. It’s good.”
Free fishing dates clarified
If you’re planning to take advantage of the state’s annual Free Family Fishing Days, here’s an important thing to consider: The dates listed in your fishing law book are incorrect.
Let me repeat: You can not fish for free, without a license, on May 29 and 30, as the book states.
The actual dates of Free Family Fishing weekend are June 5-6.
Deborah Turcotte, spokeswoman for the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, explained the situation.
“There was a clerical error in our rulebook,” Turcotte said. “One of the individuals looked up the law on free fishing days, read the language, and thought the days were going to be on Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day is always the last Monday of the month, so free fishing days fall the weekend after [Memorial Day].”
On Free Family Fishing weekends, anglers who are not otherwise prohibited from holding a fishing license can fish without buying a license. All other rules and regulations, such as size requirements and bag limits, remain in effect.
Turcotte said that the state’s game wardens are aware that the wrong dates were printed in the rulebook, and that there may be some anglers out on Memorial Day weekend who are relying on that data.
“We’re going to be addressing each situation on a case-by-case basis, and the wardens will be using their discretion based on that,” Turcotte said.
Turcotte said that she hopes the miscue doesn’t stop people from having fun on the actual Free Family Fishing weekend.
“This is a fun event, it’s a popular event, and we want people to go out and enjoy the fishing on June 5 and 6,” Turcotte said. “Hopefully the weather will be as good is it is this weekend.”
DIF&W owns Forbes Pit
The DIF&W has announced that it now owns a parcel of Caribou land that has been used as a traditional access point to the Aroostook River.
The spot, known by locals as “Forbes Pit,” is located on the Fort Fairfield Road, and allows boaters to launch watercraft at all water levels. Parking for several vehicles is also available.
According to a DIF&W press release, the eight-acre site was owned by Kent and Kathie Forbes, who granted permission for anglers and boaters. The Forbeses approached the DIF&W and said they wanted to make the spot available as a true public access point, and the DIF&W purchased the property in September.
“This will provide anglers with access to one of the best wild riverine brook trout fisheries in the state,” said Peter Bourque, the DIF&W’s director of fisheries program development, in the release. “The Aroostook River produces quality-size brookies.”
Coming up …
Next week I’ll tell you the story of a pretty cool cooperative effort the Craig Pond Association and the Bucksmills Rod and Gun Club have undertaken.
The groups weren’t natural allies, in that the rod and gun club lobbied for a boat ramp to be built at Craig Pond, while the pond association wasn’t in favor of the idea.
The ramp was built.
Trash left by ice anglers began to irk association members.
Then the two groups got together and tried to find out how they could make a difference by beautifying and preserving a truly special pond.
Their solution is an example of what can happen when diverse groups decide to get involved, rather than just sit on the sidelines and gripe.
It could also serve as a model for groups on other lakes around the state, and I look forward to telling you all about it on Tuesday.
And on Thursday, I’ll share some encouraging numbers from the Veazie Dam Atlantic salmon trap, and try to find out some possible reasons for record early returns.