Percival Baxter’s huge trout story

I just re-read Gene Letourneau’s wonderful book, Sportsmen Say. Gene was my hero, writing about hunting and fishing every day for 50 years for the Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, and Morning Sentinel.

Gene’s book is full of wonderful stories, and the very last one is about a trout that former Governor Percival Baxter (who created Baxter State Park) caught when he was a kid. Baxter would invite Gene to his home to talk about Maine and its outdoor resources.

In 1958 Baxter told Gene about an 8-pound brook trout he’d caught in 1884 in the Rangeley region when he was 7 years old. And he asked Gene not to publish the story until he died. So Gene held the story until 1969.

Here’s the story, as written by Gene, about the Percival Baxter fish account at a Portland bank.

It actually started at Toothacher Cove, Cupsuptic Lake in the Rangeley region where young Baxter accompanied his father on many fishing trips.

On this particular occasion the fish weren’t biting too well. As it does with any active youngster, time weighed heavily on the boy who was eventually to become one of Maine’s outstanding benefactors. Only the swish of the oars pulled by the guide disturbed the surroundings. The sun was beaming upon the still, motionless water.

Young Baxter was contemplating asking to return to camp when his father beat him to the punch. An enthusiastic and tireless angler, the elder Baxter told his son that if he could catch a trout weighing five pounds or more on this day, he would honor the trophy by giving him ten dollars for each pound.

Young Baxter was contemplating the offer when the rod in the lad’s hands almost was ripped from his grasp. A huge fish had struck.

The boy now was all enthusiasm and action. Following carefully the advice of his father and their guide he played the great fish until his arms became weary.

The guide, undoubtedly more excited than either of his sports, felt sure this was a great trout as he kept lunging for deep water and battling under the surface. As it kept calling for line, the boy played it out reluctantly, regaining it whenever the tension slackened.

It was a memorable fight, one that the boy would recall many times. Eventually, the speckled beauty, rolling on the surface near the boat, was netted by the guide. The fish was indeed a trophy, an Eastern Brook trout that weighed exactly 8 pounds. It proved to be the largest the governor ever caught.

That evening, at the community dining room of the sporting camp, the trout was the center of attraction. Word had spread about the award it had brought to young Baxter. One of the sportsmen asked the lad what he planned to do with his newly acquired fortune of $80.

“When I get home,” young Baxter replied, “I am going to open a savings account in the bank.” And that is exactly what he did, naming it after his big fish.

That account continued to grow and eventually was used for a wildlife conservation project. What a great story!

 

 

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.