Hunter Martin, 5, of Bangor shows off the "floating citation" he got from a local game warden while fishing with his dad, Free Martin. Credit: Photo by Free Martin

Sometimes, the opportunity for an outdoor adventure crops up unexpectedly. And sometimes, a fishing trip planned at the last minute provides the kind of memory that will last a lifetime.

That was the case for Bangor’s Free Martin, who reached out to share a recent trip he thought BDN readers would enjoy.

“It was July 5, and for some reason I found myself at home after work, with my three oldest boys all tied up with other activities, so it was just me and my youngest son, Hunter, at home with nothing to do,” Martin said.

Being at home on a 90-degree day wasn’t a recipe for success, so Martin suggested another kind of activity.

“‘Do you want to go try out a new fishing hole?’” he asked. “[Hunter was running out the door to grab his pole and tackle box].”

Martin had been eyeing a new spot for quite some time, but just hadn’t had time to get there. With 5-year-old Hunter in tow, he loaded up the gear and set a course for uncharted (to them) waters.

“When we got to the new fishing spot, we unloaded the canoe. Hunter put on his life jacket, I threw mine in the boat, we grabbed the bait, tackle and a couple of paddles and headed downstream toward a nice little pond,” Martin said. “We had a blast and caught a bunch of fish. [Hunter] had a couple hours of nice black crappie, yellow perch and sunfish action.”

Then they saw a boat heading their way. Martin recognized the craft as Game Warden-issued, and the warden pulled alongside with what sounded like an ominous greeting.

“[He] said, ‘Well, at least I know I am going to give one citation today,’” Martin recounted. “The thoughts ran through my head. I take a huge amount of pride in obeying outdoor laws and teaching my four boys to do the same. I couldn’t imagine what I forgot, but I was a little nervous.”

It turned out that the citation wasn’t meant for the father. It was just for the son.

“[He] asked Hunter, ‘Did you put that life jacket on all by yourself?’” Martin said.

Hunter answered in the affirmative.

“The warden then reached for something I will never forget,” Martin said. “He grabbed a piece of paper and said, ‘This is for you. I am giving you this Floating Citation.’ Hunter’s smile was from ear to ear as the game warden explained to him that the floating citation can be used at McDonald’s for a variety of things, including his favorite … a Happy Meal!”

After the warden pulled away, Martin asked Hunter what he thought.

“His response: ‘That guy was cool, dad!’” Martin said. “I would like to thank the game warden that works the Bangor region for his act of kindness. We were the only ones on the pond, he didn’t have to do what he did, and he showed my youngest not to fear game wardens. They are friends to law-abiding citizens and he put a memory in my son’s head that will be there forever.”

And he provided something else, too.

“The best news: We got to go to McDonald’s for dinner instead of having to eat those sunfish,” Martin said.

After a bit of detective work, the BDN was able to learn that the unnamed warden was Rick Ouellette.

Ouellette said special interactions with families afield have the potential to send a powerful message. And for some kids, those interactions could be life-changing.

“We hope to kind of recruit some of my replacements someday,” Ouellette said, explaining that young outdoors-oriented people who have positive interactions with game wardens are more apt to consider a career as a warden.

And he said the vast majority of his interactions with the sporting public don’t end up with citations being written. That’s different than most other law enforcement officers’ interactions, he said.

“A trooper, just doesn’t pull you over on the side of the interstate to chat and see how the day’s been, and to tell you where all the good fishing spots are,” he said. “Game wardens have a unique interaction. A lot of times my checks during the day — 70 to 80 percent of them — nobody did anything wrong. In fact, we chat about where the good fishing spots are, or what hazards to stay away from on a lake.”

Or, in this case, giving away a Happy Meal.

But the real credit can be shared, and also belongs to Free Martin, Ouellette will tell you.

“Hats off to the dad to take [Hunter] out and spend that time with him that day,” Ouellette said. “You know, and if I can make that day just a little bit better. And if he sees the interaction was [positive], it’s a really good day. I get some reward out of that, you know, a personal satisfaction.”

John Holyoke

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their...