Erik Poland, moments after landing a 39-pound 3-ounce lake trout on July 2 in Richardson Lakes in Oxford County. Photo courtesy of Erik Poland

Erik Poland knew he had a big fish as soon as he felt the bite on his trolling line, set nearly 100 feet into Richardson Lakes in Oxford County.

But the Andover resident never imagined his only bite of the afternoon last Thursday would end up being a historic 39 pound, 3-ounce lake trout – nearly eight pounds heavier than the state record set 62 years ago.

Even when he and the fish were at a half-hour standstill, with the trout 75 feet below Poland’s boat, according to the depth finder, Poland had no idea of its size. He just figured the fish was bigger than his previous best – a 10-pound lake trout.

“At that point I never could have estimated the proportion that it was. I just knew it was too big for me to just force it to come to the surface,” Poland said.

Maine’s fishing records are kept and maintained by Maine Sportsman magazine. Poland is filling out the paperwork to submit.

The fish, now in Poland’s freezer waiting for a date with a taxidermist, was weighed and measured by local game warden Brock Clukey on the day it was caught. Clukey’s measurements were 44 inches long, a girth of 28 inches at the widest point, and 39.2 pounds on a certified digital scale.

For Poland, who describes himself as “an average outdoorsman,” it was the catch of a lifetime and an early birthday present. He turns 35 on Tuesday.

Maine Game Warden Brock Clukey inspects the 39.2-pound lake trout caught by Erik Poland on July 2. Courtesy photo

Poland, a West Paris native and 2003 graduate of Oxford Hills High, grew up fishing in the Rangeley Lakes area with his grandfather. He also enjoys hunting deer, grouse and turkey. A lieutenant and 12-year veteran of the Auburn Fire Department, Poland said he is not the type of fisherman who goes on the water every spare minute. He said this was only his fifth or sixth time on Richardson Lakes this year.

The lake trout, also known as togue to anglers, is the largest of Maine’s native species. Poland’s catch is significantly larger than any freshwater fish in Maine Sportsman’s records. The current lake trout record, set in 1958, was a 31-pound, 8-ounce fish caught in Beech Hill Pond by Hollis Grindle of Ellsworth.

“We congratulate Mr. Poland and look forward to receiving and reviewing his application for the new state record,” Will Lund, the editor of Maine Sportsman, wrote in an email. “At 39.2 pounds, (the) fish not only surpasses the current record, it positively smashes it.”

The largest freshwater fish caught in Maine of any species on record is a 33-pound muskellunge caught by Onezime Dufour of Madawaska in the St. John River in 2010.

“It’s one of those things anglers can only dream of because the chances of catching a fish like that is just incredibly small,” said Mark Latti, communications director for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. “People dream of catching a lake trout that’s 20-plus pounds. To catch one that’s nearly double of that size is pretty amazing.”

Richardson Lakes, which is actually one lake with two bodies of water known as Upper and Lower Richardson Lake, is a deep, cold water reservoir in Oxford County in the Rangeley Lakes region. Poland said he hooked the fish near the middle dam area that separates Lower Richardson Lake from its outlet into the Rapid River.

“It was bound to happen in Richardson,” said Fern Bosse, a commercial fly tyer who has fished the Rangeley region since 1961. “There are a lot of bait fish in the lake. People have been going up there getting 20- to 25-pound togue the past several years. It was just a matter of time.”

The scale doesn’t lie. Erik Poland of Andover caught a 39.2-pound lake trout on July 2. The current state record is 31.5 pounds. Photo courtesy of Erik Poland

Poland said the fish’s only scar was a notch out of its tail. Otherwise it was in “pristine” condition and its mouth showed no evidence of previously being hooked and escaping. Latti noted that for a fish to grow to that size, it has learned to be selective with its food choices.

“If something grows to nearly 40 pounds it’s got to be smarter than nearly every other fish in that lake. The fact that nobody’s ever caught anything like that speaks to how smart or wary that fish was,” Latti said.

After he had posted a picture of himself and his record catch on Facebook, Poland received a congratulatory response from Vicky Grindle, the granddaughter of the previous state record holder.

“That message from her really kind of made the whole experience for me,” Poland said.

Poland caught the fish using a 6-and-a-half foot Ugly Stik rod and a Penn 309 reel, with 20 feet of eight-pound test monofilament attached to the end of 12-pound test lead core line.

“I didn’t have a lot of room to force the issue,” Poland said. “I was worried the entire time. Again, I never could have imagined the weight the fish was. Normally I wouldn’t have called that stuff lightweight but comparatively, it’s lightweight.”

That’s also when Poland admits he began to have doubts about his ability to land the fish. Would the hook bend? Were all his knots tied tight? Was the line strong enough?

“There were a thousand things that could have gone wrong. Let me rephrase that: There were a thousand things that should have gone wrong and I was lucky enough for them not to,” Poland said.

“To land a fish of that size obviously takes a lot of skill,” Latti said. “And then when you’re on that type of tackle there’s a lot of give and take, or else you’re either going to break that fish off or pull the lure out of the fish’s mouth. It’s no easy feat what he accomplished.”

Latti said lake trout in Maine have been documented to live as long as 30 years. State biologists intend to age Poland’s fish by having the taxidermist remove its otolith bone, which will have annual rings similar to a tree. The world record lake trout caught on a rod and reel was a 72-pounder from Great Bear Lake in Canada in 1995. In February, a 37.65 pound togue was pulled through the ice at Big Diamond Pond in Stewartstown, New Hampshire, breaking the state’s previous record by nine pounds.

When the fish finally came to the surface, Poland said he knew his net wasn’t close to big enough, so he reached into the water, grasped the fish by its gill plate and dragged it into the boat.

A nearby fisherman who knew Poland had a big fish on his line came over to inspect the catch.

“I wish I could remember his name. He was a gentleman from Bucksport and super polite and he ended up taking some pictures and he had scales in his boat and then he celebrated with me,” Poland said.

“I think he was as excited as I was. He told me immediately, ‘You caught the state record.’ But I didn’t know. I don’t know what a 39-pound lake trout looks like. Nobody does.”

Until now.

Staff writer Deirdre Fleming contributed to this report.


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