If you’re an avid angler, I imagine — unless you’ve been deep in the North Maine Woods, catching lunkers of your own — that you’ve heard about Erik Poland’s state record lake trout.
Earlier this week, I got to talk to the humble fisherman, who hauled in a 39.2-pound laker, which we Mainers are more apt to call a “togue,” from Lower Richardson Lake near Rangeley. His account of the day was both funny and inspiring, and the interview was one of the more memorable I’ve had in recent times.
While I’m among those celebrating Erik’s accomplishment — who doesn’t like to hear about a record, whether it’s in baseball, football or fishing? — I’ve got to admit I’m feeling a bit sad, as well.
Why? Well, it’s pretty simple. Since the day I was born, I have been a Beech Hill Pond camper. That small piece of water down in the Hancock County town of Otis has been our family retreat since my dad and his brother cleared the land and built a camp there before I even arrived on the scene.
And Beech Hill Pond is where the previous record-setting togue came from.
Hollis Grindle caught that behemoth back in 1958, and his 31-pound, 8-ounce togue held off all challengers for 62 years, until July 2 of this year, when Erik Poland had a couple hours to kill and decided a bit of trolling and a swim sounded like a good idea.
And Poland’s record-setter has changed everything.
For my entire fishing life, the ghost of Hollis Grindle’s togue has occupied my thoughts during long, solitary trolls on Beech Hill Pond. And that fish has been on my mind when I’m fishing with others. Or boating. Or stand on the dock, wanting to go fishing or boating. When it came to fishing on my home lake, Hollis Grindle was legendary.
Sometimes, we were catching nothing but two-pound togue.
Sometimes, we were targeting small bass along the shore.
Sometimes, we were helping young relatives catch “whopper” sunfish that hang out in the rocks near camp.
No matter where we were, and what we were fishing for, there was always a chance, we thought. Maybe this will be the day that another monster togue stops by for a visit. Maybe it’ll be one that’s a descendant of Hollis Grindle’s record-setter.
Someone once told me that as long as your line is in the water, you’ve always got a chance of something special happening.
That someone was right.
My memory is clogged with those special times, when “one more troll,” or “one more cast,” or “one more minute” paid off.
And when the fishing got slow on Beech Hill Pond, and I began to mine my memory for fish tales to share with bored companions, there was always one that I knew would catch their attention.
“Did I ever tell you about Hollis Grindle’s fish?” I’d ask. “Biggest togue that’s ever been caught in Maine.”
Their eyes would stop watching their rod tip and turn to me. And then I’d tell the story.
“The deep hole is right over there,” I’d say, even though I’m not really sure where Hollis Grindle was fishing when he caught the monster. “This is a small lake, but it’s got some big fish. Like his.”
My fishing partner would nod, knowingly.
“You know what I always wondered?” I’d ask. “Where are those big fish now? No reason why we can’t catch the next record fish, is there?”
To be honest, I’ve never come close. My biggest togue out of Beech Hill probably weighed four pounds. Erik Poland’s fish could eat two of those for breakfast, if it had a mind to. But that never mattered.
The record belonged to Beech Hill Pond. And after a long day on the water, even if we were catching more rays of sunshine than fish, we always had that.
Now, the folks down on Little Richardson Lake have that spot on top of the record board.
I hope they enjoy the honor as much as we have.
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.