AUGUSTA — Many know Chandler Woodcock as the fastidious senator who wore bow ties, or the former winning basketball coach who always kept his cool.

But Woodcock first was the country boy who showed up at school without a shirt during the freewheeling days of his Farmington youth.

He was the kid who spent summers following his grandfather from one fishing hole to the next, chasing bass until well after dark.

“I fished my life away from age 10 to 15,” Woodcock said from a rocking chair in his office, his eyes closed with the memory.

The new commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has embraced many roles in his 62 years: teacher, coach, father, soldier, state senator and gubernatorial candidate. However, Chandler Woodcock is first and foremost a student of the outdoors.

In that classroom, he majors in fishing.

He has no favorite fishing hole — or won’t name any — going “anyplace they’re biting.”

By all accounts, however, Woodcock has fished all over Maine for virtually every species. While he lives in Farmington amid western Maine’s prized trout waters, he travels the state to find solitary ponds elsewhere. He says countless adventures on Maine’s waters have brought him moments of clarity.

“When you have the chance to be on a quiet pond toward sunset and fish for fish that are rising, with a loon calling, and the moon rising, if you cannot get closer to God at that moment,” Woodcock says, leaning into his words, “then you are not watching carefully enough.”

It is this kind of introspection that Woodcock has brought to the many jobs he’s held, chief among them his work as a high school English teacher and coach.

From 1979 to 2005, he taught roughly 3,000 students in three high schools — Livermore Falls High School, Mt. Blue High School in Farmington and Skowhegan Area High School. Over the years, he coached hundreds of girls in basketball, turning the court into a classroom.

“His teams were always excellent as far as sportsmanship, but they were very, very competitive,” said former Bangor coach Tom Tennet. “Chandler wants to beat you, and I think you could see that in how hard Chandler’s teams played. I think it was a reflection on him.”

Woodcock smiles when he admits his calm, easygoing personality belies a fiercely competitive nature. He always aims for victory, as illustrated in the most memorable game of his coaching career.

When his lower-seeded Mt. Blue team faced an undefeated Lewiston team in the 1999 Class A state championship, Woodcock said, his team walked up to the Bangor Auditorium and stopped short outside the arena.

They stopped to look in at the packed house, full of 5,000 screaming fans. In his mind, they had stopped short of the line separating fear and doubt from anticipation and belief.

So Woodcock gathered them.

“I said, ‘This is why you play. This is your moment,'” Woodcock recalled.

His team went onto the court and promptly fell behind 8-0, so the man who doesn’t believe in timeouts in life called one.

He told them they could go home embarrassed, or they could leave as champions. The choice was theirs.

“They had some great, great players; but Coach Woodcock never let us think we were going to lose,” recalled Heather Ernest, who went on to star at the University of Maine and later to play professionally in Europe.

Also, Woodcock had a plan.

Knowing that plays called in from the sidelines would not be heard above the screaming fans, he wrote out signs. To this day, many high school basketball fans think he lost his voice; but he merely wanted to be a step ahead.

So as the Lewiston coach struggled to be heard, Woodcock calmly called the plays in writing.

Mt. Blue quickly tied the game 13-all and went on to win the state title.

“Now, looking back, it’s remarkable, the things we were able to accomplish,” said Ernest, now a high school coach in Dover, Mass.

“We weren’t supposed to be there,” she said. “He just instilled a lot of confidence in us.”

The methodical, calm, optimistic direction coming from courtside was classic Coach Woodcock, his rivals say.

“It didn’t matter if we played them in the summer with seventh- and eighth-grade players or in the Eastern Maine Championship; he was still a teacher preparing his kids. That is who Chandler is,” Tennet said.

Woodcock left teaching in 2005, the year before he ran for governor. He lost to Democratic Gov. John Baldacci.

Those who worked alongside Woodcock in the Legislature during his three terms there describe him the same way.

They say he wanted to achieve great things but act responsibly.

“What I remember about Chandler, he was a very deliberate thinker,” said former Maine Warden Colonel Tim Peabody. “He wanted to know a lot of information. He analyzed all angles to make his decision, and that was really what I liked. If someone else was talking about me, he wanted to hear from me so he could hear my side of the story.”

Matt Dunlap, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and former secretary of state, recalls that soon after Woodcock joined the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, he had to vote on how many any-deer permits, or doe permits, would go to each hunting district.

The number of permits available in Woodcock’s western Maine district was about to be slashed for the first time, if biologists had their way. Dunlap said Woodcock asked many questions and made it clear that he didn’t like it.

“He had that look that legislators get when they get information like that, akin to chewing on a lemon. It was a bitter taste,” said Dunlap, who was the committee’s House chair at the time.

“Over the next couple of weeks, Chandler asked a lot of questions on how they arrived at the numbers. He never argued with (the biologists). He wanted to make sure he could take information home to his constituents,” he said.

“He didn’t like it. He supported it in the end.”

Dunlap said Woodcock took the same approach, whether he was voting on a bill about mice or the recovery of the deer herd.

“He really assumes a lot of responsibility for what he’s working on,” Dunlap said.

Others in Maine’s outdoors community describe Woodcock as a student of outdoors issues and a welcome team player.

Maine Audubon gave Woodcock an award when he was a senator, recognizing him for trying to make sure IFW was adequately funded, said Jen Burns Gray, the group’s lobbyist for 14 years.

“My recollection is his approach was not exclusive, but inclusive. He treated us as a partner,” she said.

Tennet thinks the work of guiding a basketball team and leading a state department are not so different. He expects that at IFW, Woodcock will gather his staff together and get their collective mind-set focused on success.

Then, win or lose, Woodcock will return to his favorite work of tying flies, walking the woods in the fall and casting to a pool full of fish.

“My last job will be my best job,” Woodcock says of the commissioner post.

After all, for a good half century, Woodcock has been an angler, naturalist and avid hunter, a fact widely publicized during his 2006 gubernatorial race, when he bagged a 239-pound buck on the Saturday before Election Day.

Some speculated that Woodcock used the opening weekend of the traditional deer season to gain headlines; but Woodcock said hunting with his son, Seth, stems from an outdoor family tradition dating back before the first of his four children was born, 36 years ago.

“It’s real simple. My son and I have always hunted on opening day, and I did with my grandfather, before he died in the 1980s,” Woodcock said of his first hunting buddy.

This is why he’s back in Augusta, he said.

“I was not fishing for another job in the state. I only wanted one job — this job,” Woodcock said. “It is where my heart is and where my life has been … and it has been an important part of my life.”

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