Sometimes, a day of ice fishing ends with nothing more than an unsolved mystery, as fish steal bait without getting hooked, and a frustrated angler heads home empty-handed.
That seemed to be the scenario that was playing out for Gage Poulin of Corinth on Jan. 25, during a day of fishing on Moosehead Lake.
And as often happens, all of the action was taking place at one specific hole.
“I had been having flags on that same trap all day long,” Poulin said. “[Each time] I got to the flag and went to set the hook, and he spit it.”
Poulin had no way of knowing exactly what the pesky fish looked like, nor how big it was. For all he knew, it could have been a tiny trout.
It wasn’t. And all it took was one final strike to clear up the mystery and provide a fishing memory that Poulin will never forget.
“The brookie came back five times, hitting and spitting the bait before ‘Wham!’ He was on!” Poulin said. “I got him to the hole and couldn’t get his head through it.”
After a 10-minute battle, Poulin was able to haul the hefty brook trout onto the ice. The fish — the largest brookie he’s ever caught — was 23 inches long and weighed in at 5.6 pounds.
“It is the fish of a lifetime,” Poulin said.
Poulin said he took the fish to a taxidermist, and is having a mount done.
Poulin’s tenacity certainly paid off, and it launched him into some pretty rare territory: Not many of us are fortunate enough to have caught a five-pound brookie, after all. In fact, many avid anglers spend their entire lives “battling” trout that weigh less than a pound, and having a ball doing so.
But up on Moosehead, anglers have learned, they’ve got a realistic shot at a 4- or 5-pounder. There aren’t many lakes in Maine where that’s the case.
A year ago, Tim Obrey, the regional fisheries supervisor for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, explained that the Moosehead brook trout fishery has rebounded nicely, with plenty of monster brookies available for the catching.
“This is probably the third year where we’ve seen more bigger trout than we would normally see,” Obrey said in February of 2019. “In a normal year, you might see or hear of one or two fish over four pounds in the wintertime.”
The change has been dramatic, he said.
“[In 2018] we were seeing pictures almost every week of a fish over four pounds, and that lasted right through the summer,” he said.
And things kept getting better. In 2019, there seemed to be a large number of 4- to 4½-pounders, and some that topped six pounds. Biologists even caught a seven-pounder in research nets in the fall of 2018.
Obresy said the removal of thousands of lake trout during an initiative designed to reduce the pressure on forage fish paid dividends, and allowed the brookies enough food to grow.
And anglers like Poulin are happy that’s the case.
Have a fish tale?
For decades — dating back to the columns of longtime executive sports editor Bud Leavitt — the BDN has shared cool fish tales with readers, and I’m happy to continue that tradition today.
But we can’t tell those stories without you.
It used to be that fish stories got to us via snail mail or over the phone. More often nowadays, someone fires off an email to recount an adventure they’ll never forget.
Those emails — like the one I received from Gage Poulin — are among the best that I find in my inbox. Stories like that allow all of us — I’m certainly not immune — to live vicariously through the adventures of another, and wonder what it must have been like to tangle with such an impressive fish.
All of which I offer up to get to this: Thank you for your past fish tales. And please continue to send them along, to the email address below.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.