July 10 – 16, 2020Vol. 22, No. 5

Fish Stories

by Rod Johnson

Local guide Charlie Brown, who lived in the stone house, Belgrade Lakes Village.

Haven't we all heard a few? In the good old State of Maine stories abound of fish being caught — and many of the ones that got away. Many stories may have some truth to them, but as we know, all fishermen are liars except you and me.

In this day and age with the cell phone cameras in every top pocket, it's a little harder to exaggerate, though I have noticed the angle of the pic can be used to make something look larger than it is. All you have to do is watch North Woods Law on the tube and see what grand efforts people make to try and fool the Maine Game Wardens. Not only do people love to try and stretch the truth about a trout making the minimum length, but also, they love to try and hide fish in order to take more home. Our wardens are sly themselves and have seen it all. Few offenders get off the hook!

Apparently telling fish stories is not a new phenomenon. In researching this a bit, I found several articles that BHS member Sandra Lewis unearthed from old newspaper articles and included in her uncirculated book Life in Lake Country, Part II. The following article was found in the Kennebec Journal historical records.

This rather improbable story was told to a crowd in a hotel office sometime in 1899. It seems the narrator of the story had recently gone fishing in Great Pond, Belgrade, Maine. He had very good success, but lost the best trout he hooked — at least he says it was the best. In breaking away, the trout carried off the leader with three flies on it.

A few days later while fishing in the same general area he saw a flurry of ripples in the water. Casting his line in the direction of the disturbance caused two large trout to break water. The cast paid off and the fisherman steadily reeled in the confusing catch. A net was placed under one and then the other. Great was the man's surprise at seeing two fish, neither hooked by his recent cast, but were attached to each other by the very leader he had lost several days before.

Believe this if you will, but it would have made a better story if there had been 3 fish on the leader, one for each fly. But, the narrator said, this does look very good for Belgrade.

No doubt about it, that was a wicked good fish story, and hard to beat. Here's one from 1904 that seemed like it could be a contender. This is from the American Canoe Association, League of American Sportsmen, Maine Chapter: Mr. A Judah reports the following catch of small mouth bass in Belgrade Lakes, Maine: Friday 75, Saturday 68, Monday 73, Tuesday 72, Wednesday 69, Thursday 64. Mr. Judah says that this is the record on the lakes except his own of last year, which was 105 bass in one day.

In commenting on Mr. Judah's fishing habits, the Editor (Maine Sportmen) says: He goes after fish the same as another man would shoot birds, in a business way. He takes a guide and a boat, starts at sun up and stays till dark. The guide cooks the noon meal and Judah fishes. As you do the fishing there, it would not be worth 10 cents a day 2 years from now. Your number in the fish hog book is 929.

Now, whether this actually happened or not remains to be seen, but we do know that overfishing in the past has occurred. Thank heavens we have limits of amount and size now.

This last entry in the Fish Story is my own recollection. You can decide if there's some fibbing involved or not. It was in the mid 1970s on Great Pond, about midway between Abena Point and the Mill Stream entrance. Ralph and I had built a rather lavish ice fishing shack that was 8 feet by 12 feet. It had some nice amenities, like a tin wood stove, bench on one side, open raceway to fish from on the other side, a card table and two fold-up chairs.

We fished pretty much every weekend for several hours and usually, unless the weather was totally untenable, we had lots of company stop by. Truth is, the place became party central on Sunday afternoons. We usually set out five traps each per regulation and usually got a few white perch and an occasional pickerel. At the time, pike had been introduced into the lake and mud puppies were fairly plentiful on the bottom, so the pickerel and cat fish seemed to be getting pushed out. We started to catch occasional mud puppies and pike, more each year.

One Sunday afternoon as a nor'easter was threatening, the company bailed out earlier than usual. Ralph and I decided to pull the traps and then settle in for a snifter or two while playing a game of cribbage, then head home. During the game we decided to leave one trap set in the raceway until next week when we returned. Just before leaving we put a fresh shiner on the hook and lowered it down to the bottom, set the flag, etc.

The following weekend when we returned, our flag was up and the reel was empty of line. As we slowly pulled the line in it was clear that we had a heavy, though lethargic, fish on the line. When the fish was hauled to the top it was a large pike. The odd thing was the remains of a mud puppy still evident in the pike's toothy jaw. As we attempted to get the hook out we realized that the mud puppy had taken our shiner and sometime after, the pike had eaten the mud puppy. The pike turned out to weigh close to 10 pounds, which at that time was unheard of. Seems to me that Maurice Childs caught one nearly 30 pounds a few years back.

Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.

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