Erik Poland of Andover shows off the 39.2-pound lake trout he caught while fishing Lower Richardson Lake in western Maine on July 2, 2020. The fish broke a 62-year-old Maine state record for the species. Credit: Erik Poland

When Erik Poland headed to Lower Richardson Lake in Township C on July 2, he didn’t intend to fish for lake trout. In fact, he didn’t really plan to fish for very long.

“I had a couple of hours to kill,” the 34-year-old Andover man said. “I thought I’d fish for salmon for awhile, go for a swim, then head home.”

But after seeing no sign of salmon near the surface on his fish finder, he decided to drop his lead-core line deeper, and try his luck for lake trout, which were showing up near the bottom in 94 feet of water.

Man, did he get lucky.

Poland let out 15 colors of lead-core line — each color is 10 yards long, which allows an angler to gauge how deep they’re fishing — so he could target the bottom-dwelling fish. And his only strike of the day resulted in an epic battle that culminated with him landing a state record lake trout, or togue.

The fish was 44 inches long and weighed 39.2 pounds, breaking the 62-year-old previous record by more than seven pounds.

Hollis Grindle shows off the state record togue he caught in Beech Hill Pond in Otis back in 1958. The fish weighed 31 pounds, 8 ounces. BDN File photo

The previous record was set on Aug. 3, 1958, when Hollis Grindle of Ellsworth landed a 31.5-pound togue while trolling Beech Hill Pond in Otis.

Poland said he’s not sure how long he battled the fish, which kept making long runs.

“I can’t even dare to guess how many times it ran line out on me, and then I’d reel it back in,” Poland said.

Poland, who was fishing alone, said his previous best togue weighed about 10 pounds. This time, he wasn’t really equipped to catch anything much bigger.

His fluorocarbon leader was rated to handle just 8 pounds, and he had attached a two-inch DB Smelt lure to the end of it. And his net was too small for such a big fish.

So when he finally reeled the fish to the surface and it flopped onto its side, Poland decided to land it with his bare hands.

“It felt like two days, but [the fight] was probably an hour or an hour and a half, tops,” Poland said. “I walked it up to the back of the boat, looked at my 18- to 20-inch net and quickly kicked that to the side. I knew that was going to create even more problems. It was half the size it needed to be. So I just grabbed it by the gill plate and hauled it up over the stern of the boat.”

Liz Thorndike, a Rangeley region fisheries biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said the fact that Poland successfully caught such a whopper set an example for other anglers.

“Erik wasn’t even fishing for togue. It just goes to show you to catch this fish of a lifetime, you just have to be on the water,” Thorndike said. “You just have to go fishing.”

Poland said another nearby angler, Nate Robertson, rode over to watch the action, and tossed a hand-held scale aboard so that Poland could weigh the fish. Neither man knew what the state record was, but both knew it wasn’t 39 pounds.

After heading ashore, Poland found a certified scale that gave him an exact weight.

Poland said he’s still looking for a taxidermist, and says he’ll put the mounted fish in his house, where it’ll stay forever.

But he said he doesn’t keep many togue, and considered releasing this one, even after seeing how large it was.

“It was kind of bittersweet with this one. There was a fleeting moment where I really wanted to put it back,” Poland said. “But ultimately, I would have been the biggest liar in the world if I had. Then it really would have just been a fish tale.”

The previous record has become a favorite part of Maine fishing lore. According to an account that ran in the BDN two days after the 1958 record-breaker was caught, Grindle was fishing with friend Bernard Lynch.

“Lynch broke the ice by landing the day’s first fish, a 9 1/2 -pound lake trout,” wrote the BDN’s Bud Leavitt at the time. “The two fishermen were trolling with deep rigging, lead-core lines, 30-foot monofilament leaders with bait harnessed to a number two sewing hook. Grindle felt his line go taut in 60 feet of water opposite ‘The Ledges’ and in an area where deep-trollers often find the end of the rainbow.”

Grindle said he wasn’t even sure he had hooked a fish.

“I couldn’t move this thing, so naturally, I figured I was [stuck] fast to the State of Maine,” Grindle said.

Grindle’s state record fish was 41 inches long.

Grindle died in 1991, at age 85. On Aug. 3, 2008, exactly 50 years after Grindle set his record, a group of 21 anglers in 10 boats returned to the pond.to commemorate the event with a day of fishing.

The Maine record has stood ever since, with relatively few reported close calls as would-be record-setters wound up just a bit shy of eclipsing Grindle’s mark.

Among the more well-known is the 29.67-pounder that Bill Maynard Jr. hauled out of Moosehead Lake back in 2009.

Bill Maynard holds the new Moosehead Lake record lake trout that he caught. Credit: Courtesy of Bill Maynard

It took Maynard five hours to get that fish to a certified scale, which led many to believe it had dried out enough to cost him the record.

“Everybody who knows fish tells me that one was 34 pounds, anyway [when it came up through the ice],” Maynard said at the time. “But like I said, he just bled and drained [for hours before it was weighed on an official scale].”

Though a few days have passed since Poland’s memorable fishing trip, he said he hasn’t headed back to Lower Richardson Lake to try his luck since then.

Since word of his record fish has begun to make the rounds, he doesn’t think that would be a great idea.

“Can you imagine what kind of a zoo that place is now?” he asked with a chuckle.

John Holyoke can be reached at jholyoke@bangordailynews.com

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...