A near-record memory

The fish seemed almost as big as my brother.Long before trolling had anything to do with an Internet that had not yet been invented, Dad loved to troll the lake in front of our home in a 16-foot boat with a 5.5-horsepower Chris-Craft motor idled back to provide only enough power to steer the boat.

On any normal summer Sunday morning, while Mom and kids were at church in town, Dad would be in his pew at the back of the Skowhegan boat, puffing Phillip Morris cigarettes and communing with the fish.

A successful session would end with him racing the boat toward home, carving a big sweeping circle in front of our home before cutting the power and coasting up to the dock, holding up a togue — Mainer for lake trout — destined for the evening dinner table.

That day, we were trolling along, he commanding me occasionally to be still because the fish could hear every time I shifted my foot (though apparently fish could not hear the motor, or the waves slapping against the side of the boat).

Suddenly something tugged Dad’s line. He waited to see if it would happen again. “Probably just caught a weed,” he mumbled. Another tug. He yanked the rod to set the hook. “Got him,” he exclaimed.

With one hand, he held his rod, while with the other he shut off the motor and pulled the propeller out of the water. He worked the crank on his Shakespeare reel, winding the fish slowly closer to the surface. The fish pulled steadily on the line, more like a dead weight than a live fish. Dad began to be suspicious maybe he had caught some piece of flotsam from the lake bottom. Finally, his quarry came near enough to the surface to see its shape …

He let out a string of expletives that would have warmed a winter eve. Through the distortion of the rippled water, he saw he had hooked a log, its waterlogged mass bending his rod into an inverted U. “Just reach down there and pull the damn hook loose,” he said.

I started to reach over the side of the boat …

And the “log” headed for the bottom of the lake, peeling line from the Shakespeare reel like thread from Mom’s Singer sewing machine. Dad lubricated the runaway reel with more expletives. This was a FISH. Probably a record-breaker, Dad said.

A growing breeze had begun to push the boat toward the rocky shore, and Dad directed me to switch places with him. He took the middle seat, and I sat at the motor — a position I had never before been allowed. Following his sometimes colorful directions, I tipped the propeller back in the water, started the motor, and headed the boat slowly away from the rocks.

For what seemed like hours but was probably only about 45 minutes, that fish and my father battled and taunted each other. Each time the fish came near the surface, it seemed to laugh and dive back to the bottom. At least three times, I started the motor to move upwind, away from the rocky shore.

Eventually, the creature tired and allowed itself to be steered into the net, and brought aboard the boat. Dad unhooked his lure from the giant togue’s jaw and laid the fish on the bottom of the boat, convinced more than ever that it was a newspaper-worthy catch. He took back his rightful place at the motor’s controls, opened the throttle and victoriously headed us home.

He took the fish to town, and later I heard him tell Mom it was a quarter-inch and a few ounces short of the biggest fish ever recorded from Porter Lake. For me, it became a lake-record memory.

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