To call Steve Greenleaf an avid lake trout fisherman is, to put it simply, an understatement. In fact, according to his exacting records, since he began keeping track in 1984, he has spent 10,370 hours fishing his home water, Cold Stream Pond, in search of the fish many Mainers call “togue.”
That’s more than a year — 432 days, to be exact — spent fishing.
On July 21, the 73-year-old Greenleaf reached a significant milestone, as he hauled in his 5,000th Cold Stream Pond togue.
Not that Greenleaf is eager to toot his own horn, mind you.
“I’m embarrassed to tell you this stuff, because I don’t want it to sound like I’m bragging,” Greenleaf said. “I’m catching fish, and I’m having fun. That’s all I know.”
Greenleaf said he’s into statistics, and for the last 36 years, he has been filling out fishing logbooks for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, keeping track of how many fish he has caught, how long they were and how much time he spent fishing.
Those books, which are submitted by anglers at many Maine lakes, help biologists by giving them more data than they’d ever be able to collect by conducting in-person surveys with fishermen they encounter on those lakes.
And at the end of each season, the biologists return the logbook to him, and he plugs the numbers into his computer. That’s why he has such in-depth data.
Kevin Dunham, the DIF&W’s fisheries resource supervisor for the Penobscot Region, praised Greenleaf’s contributions.
“It is rare to have a record keeper maintain angling records, especially for both ice fishing and open-water seasons, consistently over a long time period on a single waterbody,” Dunham said. “He is what I’d call an old-school togue fisherman. He doesn’t rely on electronics for his success; he knows the lake extremely well and he understands the habits and behavior of togue. With the help of Steve’s Cold Stream Pond recordkeeping, we’ve been able to keep a close on togue population trends in Cold Stream Pond.”
The milestone wasn’t his first. Back in 2004, Greenleaf learned that according to the records he’d been keeping for the DIF&W, he had caught one mile of togue, if all of those fish had been lined up, nose to tail.
On average, accounting for both ice fishing and open water fishing trips, Greenleaf has caught about one togue for every two hours he has fished over the past 36 years. On good days, though, he says he’ll catch a fish every half hour.
He rarely fishes open water for more than three hours at a stretch, and only fishes on days when the wind is calm. The fishing tactics he prefers demand those conditions.
Togue fishermen have long espoused the “low and slow” method, meaning that they try to get a weighted lead-core line down near the bottom, and then try to troll as slowly as possible. A large attractor spoon is attached in front of the leader, and a sewn-on shiner or smelt makes a good bait.
Not that many people are fishing that way any longer, Greenleaf said.
“It’s a dying thing, lead-core line. Everybody is downrigging,” he said, referring to a piece of equipment that allows the angler to put the lure at precise depths using a weighted ball on the end of a cable.”I tried it, but I just can’t get into it. I like to have the pole in my hand with the spinner bouncing the rod.”
That kind of fishing keeps him busy, too. Greenleaf wants the spinner to bounce off the bottom, but not become stuck there. That requires him to constantly reel line in or out in order to keep his bait in the perfect spot. As the pond’s depth changes, he must adjust the amount of line he has out.
“You’re working steady. People want to go salmon fishing, but I call that comatose fishing,” Greenleaf said. “You can sit back and pump your rod every once in a while [when you’re fishing for salmon, because you’re not trying to keep your spinner on bottom]. With togue, you’ve got to be ready all the time, up and down, up and down.”
Greenleaf’s 5,000th togue was an average-sized fish, weighing three or four pounds, and measuring 21 inches. And though he’s spent more than a year fishing Cold Stream Pond, he’s still waiting to catch a true whopper.
“You’d think with 5,000 togue, I’d have some wall-hangers, but the biggest I’ve ever caught is 13 pounds,” Greenleaf said.
Not that he’s complaining. He’s catching fish. He’s having fun. And that’s good enough for him.