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Since there hasn't been much open-water fishing going on around here since the season started a while back I thought I'd pass the time with a fish story told to me by my grandfather. He always claimed that he landed the largest fresh-water fish ever caught in Maine waters, and I believe him. He said the particulars should all be there in Maine's official archives in Augusta. When I asked how I could find it, Grandfather said he thinks it's in a file under “L” for “largest fish.”
Grandfather had heard for years the legends about a giant fish that lived in the deep waters of the Penobscot River just above Old Town, and one day he set out to catch it. He said the reason no one had been able to land the fish was because they didn't have the right equipment. He believed if he could assemble all the right tools he could get the job done.
His assembly began with a trip to Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, where he went into the office of the commandant and asked if he could borrow the large ship's anchor that sat on the school's front lawn. Without asking what Grandfather wanted with the anchor, the commandant merely said if Grandfather promised to return it he could borrow it for a day or two. The anchor was to be Grandfather’s fish hook.
Grandfather then went to a steel plant in Bangor and bought 500 feet of half-inch steel cable for his fish line. Next, he drove to a meat plant –where they had cows going in one end and hot dogs coming out the other – and bought a side of beef to use for bait.
With the items he needed, Grandfather headed just north of Old Town to his secret fishing spot on the Penobscot. It took him a while but he managed to splice the steel cable to the ring of the ship's anchor, bait both anchor “hooks” and set the anchor out in the middle of the river. He then lashed the cable to the bumper of his pickup so the fish wouldn't haul him into the river when it got hooked.
Grandfather said that in less than 15 minutes he got his first nibble, and then that giant fish jumped out of the water, did a magnificent flip, dove to the bottom and swallowed his hook, line and sinker. When I reminded Grandfather that he hadn't said anything about a sinker, he just said: “Well John, I guess I forgot to tell you that I'd lashed the engine block of a ‘68 Chevy on my line for a sinker.”
As soon as the fish was hooked it started swimming upstream and by the time it ran out of the 500-foot steel-cable line he was swimming so fast that he pulled Grandfather's truck right out of its paint job. One minute the red truck was sitting by the riverbank and the next, his red paint job was flapping 500 feet behind that fish.
The farther upstream the fish went, the narrower the river got until before long the fish was pushing the entire Penobscot back upstream. Above Old Town there's a massive hydroelectric plant, with huge turbines in the river spinning around and generating electricity. When the river started flowing in reverse they say the plant started generating electricity backwards and all the electricity on all the wires in northern Maine started flowing back to the electric plant. Before long there was such a buildup of electricity in the plant that there was a massive explosion.
The explosion wasn't too good for the electric plant, according to Grandfather, but it was just enough to stun that fish so he could filet him out.
Had to use my chain saw to do it, Grandfather said.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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