When Tim Kelley came back to Maine to visit with family members, the Waldoboro native figured that a fishing trip near his dad’s Vinalhaven home was in order.
Kelley, who now lives in Arkansas, had modest goals — he was fishing in one of several quarry ponds on the island, which sits about 15 miles off the mainland.
“Since I was here for the weekend, I bought a cheap $25 Shakespeare ultralight trout rod from Walmart, and a package of $5 Blue Fox rooster tail [lures],” Kelley said. “And I went out fishing.”
Before he was done that June 4 fishing trip, he’d caught the fish of a lifetime and landed himself in the Maine record books with the largest rainbow trout ever caught in the state, a monster that weighed 13 pounds, 7 ounces and measured 32½ inches long.
The fish is more than five pounds larger than the previous record-holder, an 8.42-pounder caught in the Kennebec River near Starks.
Kelley said he was fishing from shore, perched on a rock, when the fish struck his lure.
“I had my drag set pretty low, so I thought it was a big bass. There are bass in the pond,” Kelley said. “But it made a couple of good runs where I said, ‘This is going to be a good one.’ It wasn’t until it surfaced and then went on another run that my buddy that I was fishing with got a little excited.”
Eventually, Kelley reeled the fish close to shore. At that point, his pal, Mike Seeley, took action.
“He got in the water,” Kelley said. “The fish was pretty tired, and he tried to ease it into his arms. When that happened, the line broke.”
Seeley asked Kelley to hop into the water with him, in hopes that they could still land the fish, which was lying, exhausted, in the shallows.
“When I got in, I tried to reach for [the fish] and it took a couple of kicks and got loose,” Kelley said. “But it was so tired that it took two good flaps of its tail out into the water, went about five feet out, and started rolling on its side a little bit.”
The depth of the quarry pond drops off severely a couple of feet beyond where the fish was lying, and Kelley seized what might have been his last opportunity to land the fish..
“That’s when I finished jumping all the way in,” he said. “[The fish] went belly-up and I scooped him up in my arms and kind of bear-hugged him out.”
The bear-hug retrieval method worked, and after looking at the fish, any plans of eating it were put on the back burner. Instead, the friends decided that a call to taxidermist Christian Carlson might be in order.
“Mike said, ‘You should get that thing mounted,’” Kelley said. “His exact words were, ‘I’ll smack you if you don’t get that mounted.’”
Though Kelley’s fish is impressive, it’s also a bit mysterious. Wes Ashe, a fisheries biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Resources, said the fish is undoubtedly a state record, but said there’s really no reason why a rainbow trout should be in a quarry pond on Vinalhaven.
“We do stock a few quarry ponds on the island, but we only stock brook trout. The state has never stocked rainbows there. So it’s likely a private stocking,” Ashe said in an email. “Some of those quarry ponds are deep and have water quality (i.e. cold water and oxygen) that is suitable for trout growth and survival. If fishing pressure is light, it’s possible for stocked rainbows to do very well. I would never have anticipated a rainbow to grow to 13-plus pounds in that environment, but given the right water quality, diet, competition (or lack thereof), rainbows are hearty and can grow surprisingly large.”
Ashe said quarry ponds remain mysterious to him. They’re mostly man-made, he said, and often have no inlet or outlet. And not much lives in them.
“I would imagine the number of fish species were originally very, very limited … like zero,” Ashe wrote. “I think the only fish species that could have actually reached the vast majority of these ponds, on their own, were American eels. Eels are crazy critters, capable of slithering across very long stretches of waterless terrain.”
But there is another way any number of fish might have arrived in the quarry ponds of Vinalhaven.
“Humans love to relocate fishes. It’s not natural, but it’s in [their] nature to do so,” Ashe wrote. “So, many of these quarries now have more complex fish assemblages. In the quarry pond Tim [Kelley] visited, we have confirmed just eel, golden shiner, and stocked brook trout. The state hasn’t sampled this particular quarry since 1989, so the fish assemblage could be markedly different now. We may head out there this summer to sample.”
Moving fish to new waters — often called “bucket-stocking” — is not legal in Maine, and biologists say the activity often causes myriad problems in watersheds where it takes place.
The fish was the first rainbow trout that Kelley has ever caught, but he says now that he might have come close to landing another one several years ago, in the same quarry pond.
“About seven or eight years ago I was fishing that same pond, from the other side, and I hooked onto a good one and I saw a flash [like a rainbow might make],” Kelley said. “I got it almost up to the rocks and it broke my line, and the person I was with said it was a rainbow.
A rainbow? Or the rainbow that’s now at the taxidermist’s shop? That’s a question Kelley will never have an answer for.
“I haven’t fished out there since I left,” Kelley said. “[The record-breaking fish] might even be the same one I lost.”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke