Valerie Foster of Howland remembers the day in 1979 when her husband, James “Bob” Foster, walked into the house after a weekend fishing trip with some friends.
“It was no different than any other day,” she said. “He came back with a fish.”
Her son, Scott also remembers that day well.
“I came home that day and asked dad, ‘Did you catch any fish?’ He said, ‘Look on the steps.’” Scott Foster said. “Out on the steps was a cooler. I opened the cooler and there it is. I said, ‘How big is that thing?’ And he said, ‘It’s the new state record.’”
That, Scott Foster said, is about as close as his dad would ever come to actually bragging about a legendary fish that stood as the state record for almost 30 years.
On Monday, many members of the Foster clan gathered at the West Enfield regional headquarters of the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife for the official unveiling of Foster’s newly refurbished record-setting trout. The 8-pound, 8-ounce bruiser was given a makeover by well-known wildlife artist and taxidermist David Footer.
The DIF&W footed the bill for the work, and will display the fish at the headquarters building.
And on a day that was equally lively and somber — Bob Foster passed away on June 28, before the work on his trout was completed — everyone had a story to tell.
Take Kempton Spencer, for example.
The 70-year-old was one of Bob Foster’s fishing buddies, and was one of four men who headed to Aroostook County during the last weekend of the 1979 fishing season.
Spencer caught the biggest trout of his life that day, in fact.
It just wasn’t big enough.
“Two of us went one way [in a boat] and two the other way,” Spencer said. “I hooked onto a big trout and I told the guy that was with me, ‘You net that fish, and don’t you miss him.’”
His pal didn’t miss. Spencer had caught a 6½-pounder. And before long, he’d collected on the group’s customary bet: The man who caught the biggest fish of the trip earned $5 from everyone else.
“We went in, had a couple of drinks, and laughed about it,” Spencer said. “And everybody paid me, five dollars apiece. [We all thought] nobody’s going to catch a bigger trout.”
They were wrong.
After returning to the lake, it didn’t take long before Spencer and his fishing partner saw Foster’s boat roaring toward them.
“It seemed like an hour or so and here they come, wide open,” Spencer said. “George [Michaud Jr.] says, ‘Hey, Kemp, is there any togue in here?’ I said, ‘There’s no togue in here.’ And he says, ‘Well, this must be a big brook trout,’ and he held up Foster’s trout.”
It was big. The biggest modern Maine trout on record, in fact.
“[George said], ‘I think you’re going to have to pay [Foster] back.’ Sure enough, I had to pay him back, plus five,” Spencer said.
In 2009, a larger brook trout was caught and verified as a state record. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, before a verification process was established, there are reports of trout larger than 10 pounds being caught in Maine.
But the more recent record-setter was a hatchery-born fish. And according to DIF&W officials and some observers at Monday’s ceremony, that’s enough of a reason to keep recognizing Foster’s fish for what it is.
“Congratulations to the guy who got the new record brook trout,” Scott Foster said. “That’s how dad would have [felt].”
With that said, Scott Foster thinks there’s room for more than one record fish.
“My father, if he was around, would be the first to shake [the other angler’s] hand,” Scott Foster said. “But we know what [dad’s fish] is. We know that this is the state wild brook trout record. It always will be. No matter how many more come along.”
Scott’s mom, Valerie, says her husband nearly didn’t set the record at all. That fish in the cooler? Bob Foster would have been perfectly content to leave it there for a bit … then to have eaten it for supper.
It didn’t turn out that way.
“He didn’t know what the record was,” Valerie Foster said. “[His friends] teased him so he went [to have the weight verified]. That’s the only reason he went.”
Valerie Foster said that setting a state record wasn’t important to her husband. Just to have had a nice day fishing would have been enough.
“He just would have said, ‘I caught a big trout.’ That’s the way he was. It didn’t matter,” she said. “He was some kind of a guy. Fifty-one years we had together. And it was fun.”