John Michaud has spent almost his entire life fishing on Long Lake.
The 66-year-old retired truck broker lives in St. Agatha, a stone’s throw from the shore of the lake that each year produces some of Maine’s biggest landlocked salmon.
Michaud comes by his experience honestly, having fished Long Lake as a child with his father, Roland “Pete” Michaud. He has passed the tradition along to his immediate family members, including his wife Diane, sons Eric and Matthew, and granddaughter Natalie Michaud.
“We’ve been married 47 years and on one of the first dates we ever went on, we went fishing,” Michaud said.
“We are a family that fishes together.”
Living across the road from Long Lake means easy access for the Michauds, who put out an ice shack during the winter months and launch their boat often during the open-water fishing season.
Six decades of experience can sometimes come in handy. Other times, not so much.
“This is a lake that can teach you a lesson,” Michaud said. “You can go a number of times and actually get skunked, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. I’ve known people to fish here for seven days and never get a bite.”
Last weekend was a prime example of the fickle nature of Long Lake, even for seasoned anglers.
On Saturday, John and Diane went out and came away empty-handed. The next day, John and Matthew gave it a try.
“The way we work this is, we go out there, I set everything up and the first fish that bites is always their turn first,” John Michaud said.
They got a bit of a later start than usual after attending a Saturday night birthday party but were still on the water by 8 o’clock.
Matthew, 37, got things off to a strong start by landing a 3-pound salmon. Within the hour, John had boated the biggest salmon of his life.
The Michauds like to troll with sewn-own bait, but this time were using a stationary method known as “plugging.” They were hand-lining for smelts, then placing them on a hook as bait and lowering them to 55 feet.
“I use a 10-foot rod and I stick it in my downrigger holders and I just sit there with an anchor,” John Michaud said. “The rod sits off the side of the boat and when the fish bites, the top of the rod bounces and that’s it.”
The tactic proved successful as he hooked up with a feisty salmon. John Michaud said there wasn’t any overwhelming sense of excitement.
Matthew was ready to make sure the fish made it into the boat.
“I knew I had a big fish on and I knew how to get it to the boat. Matthew’s the one that netted it for me,” John Michaud said. “I said, ‘I’m gonna bring it right to your net, all you’ve got to do is scoop it up. It’s gonna be heavy!’”
The salmon measured 25 inches and weighed 8 pounds.
“It took me 60 years to catch that one,” said Michaud, a former truck broker who retired in May.
Back at the house, there was a brief discussion about whether to have the fish mounted. Diane wasn’t in favor of the plan and John said the $1,300 price tag was another factor in the decision not to pursue it.
“That fish is already fixed and we’re going to probably eat it next week,” he said with a chuckle.
And it turns out that his 8-pounder is not the biggest salmon caught by a family member.
“My wife’s got me beat,” John said of Diane, who holds the bragging rights with a 10-pounder landed while ice fishing in 2006.
“I need to get my 10-pounder before I mount one,” he said.
Even though there are some anglers who prefer to shroud their methods for catching big fish in secrecy, John Michaud is open to discussing his tactics. He knows after a lifetime of scouring Long Lake for big salmon that there are many variables and tricks of the trade that affect an angler’s success.
“It doesn’t make me a better fisherman than everybody else, just luckier that day,” he said.
The allure of catching big salmon also helps promote other recreational benefits of the area, including snowmobiling and four-wheeling, and generates revenue for businesses located near the lake.
“I think we live in a paradise here and we’re willing to share,” John Michaud said.