Joe Vachon of Toronto, Ontario, Canada shows off the monster fallfish, or chub, that he caught while fishing the Moose River with his brother-in-law, Al Harris of Hampden recently. The anglers released the fish, but later learned that if they'd kept it, it may have been close to a state record for the species that many people view as a "trash fish." Credit: Courtesy of Al Harris

Al Harris of Hampden and his brother-in-law, Joe Vachon of Toronto, spent a few days fishing together last week, landing an unlikely fish story in the process.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find an angler who spends any time actually targeting the species of fish that Vachon ended up catching. But when you end up hauling in a specimen that’s two or three times the size of any of its relatives you’ve ever caught, seen or heard of, you might as well enjoy the spectacle.

That’s Harris’s take on the matter, anyway.

A blustery day on nearby Moosehead Lake had driven the anglers onto the sheltered Moose River, where they trolled up and down the river that empties into Maine’s largest lake.

“It was just really nasty out there. Just the biggest of big boats [were on the lake],” Harris said. “So we said, well, we’re relegated to the river. Let’s do it again.”

The anglers had a rod outfitted with sinking flyline and a silver Swedish Pimple lure, and were hoping to catch a landlocked salmon or a brook trout. They didn’t have any luck on that front, though.

Instead, they caught a string of small, unspectacular fish. A 6-inch fallfish, also called a “chub.” An 8-inch bass. A 5-inch bass. Each time a strike came, the fishermen would alternate the responsibility of reeling the fish in.

Then it was Vachon’s turn, and the rod bent deeply, signalling a much bigger fish was on the line.

“We knew we had something major on, and I assumed it was a salmon,” Harris said. “But there was no jumping, and it was staying down [on the bottom of the river].”

Salmon are known to leap. Togue, or lake trout, often dig in and head for the depths. But Harris did not expect to catch a togue in the river, so he was not quite sure what they had hooked.

The mystery continued when the fish reached the surface.

“I looked down and saw him coming up, and he was pretty dark-colored,” Harris said. “And we get him up a little higher, and I could see the scaly, greenish-yellow pattern on his back. And that weird looking head. I said, ‘Is that a carp?’ But I don’t think there are any carp in Moosehead.”

Eventually, Harris netted the fish, and the duo realized what they caught: a monster fallfish. Or, if you prefer, a super-chub.

“He put up a good fight, just flopping around in the boat,” Harris said. “We were thinking, ‘You know? We got a good crap fish here. Throw it back.’ But little did we know that it was probably a contender for a record.”

Although it might not seem fair to the fish, many anglers would agree and call a chub a “trash fish.” Harris said he’s caught plenty of 4- to 10-inch chubs in his day, but had never seen the likes of this one, which he estimated was between 22 and 24 inches long. It was not until he returned home that he learned that the state record fallfish is a 3-pound, 12-ounce fish caught out of Sibley Pond in 1986.

He thinks the Moose River super-chub may have been just as big.

And he may be right. Wes Ashe, a state fisheries biologist, said that if he had an accurate length measurement to work with, he could estimate the fish’s weight pretty accurately.

“If his fish measured 22 inches, its estimated weight is 3.22 pounds (shy of the record),” Ashe said. “If it measured 23 inches, its estimated weight is 3.74 pounds (approximately .01 pounds shy of the record … a virtual tie, really). And a 24-inch fallfish is estimated to weigh 4.31 pounds — a record-crusher.”

Alas, Harris and Vachon never thought to keep the fish, nor to measure it. So they’re just left with a story that they think is pretty funny.

“We’d have been beside ourselves and thinking ourselves pretty self-important if it was a salmon or a trout,” Harris said. “But we were just laughing at the situation because it happened to be a chub.”

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...