Saturday was an emotional day for members of the Bernier family.
As a tribute to Julie (Jackson) Bernier, who died last month after a 16-year struggle with cancer, the family chose to celebrate her life the best way they knew how — by spending time together outdoors.
Wayne Bernier of Allagash invited family members, including his son Cole Bernier, grandson Colby Bernier, brother Bruce Bernier and a handful of other relatives and friends, on an ice fishing excursion to Glazier Lake.
“It was all family and very close friends that loved my wife as much as we did,” said Wayne Bernier who, alongside Julie, Cole and Colby, has operated Allagash Adventures Guide Service in Allagash. “It was a day we put together just because my wife would have loved to have been with us.”
The group gathered their gear, packed a supply of food and drinks, and rode their snowmobiles 11 miles to the lake, which straddles on the border between Maine and New Brunswick.
Glazier Lake is known for muskellunge, commonly known as muskies, and it is home to some sizable specimens.
Wayne Bernier and Colby Bernier had started making the fires to cook lunch when Cole Bernier noticed the bright, red flag from one of their homemade tip-ups was pointing toward the sky. Cole arrived at the hole first and saw the reel wasn’t turning, so he loosened the drag.
Immediately, the fish bolted and began stripping the line off the reel. Colby and Wayne arrived on the scene and Colby grabbed the line and set the hook — seconds before the last of the line was unspooled.
The tussle that ensued, which lasted about 10 minutes, was preserved on video. The attached five-minute clip was taken by Wayne’s cousin Jeff Bernier.
“He said it was big, but he never really let on how big it was. Sometimes it’s quite deceiving,” Wayne said of Colby’s reaction while pulling in the fish. “He stayed cool. A lot of people would have freaked right out. I was really proud of him.”
The whole crew gathered around to watch and support Colby’s efforts to get the fish onto the ice.
Colby methodically retrieved the line, withstanding a couple of runs by the fish. The men encouraged him and provided advice, all of them eager to see a big fish.
“Easy, easy,” one voice said.
“Don’t bully him,” chimed in another.
“I’m not,” said Colby, who has been fishing since he could walk, his grandfather said of the 14-year-old from Easton, who has adopted a line-pulling technique that differs from that of other family members, but is effective.
“I’m getting tired,” Colby said a short time later.
Yet, as had been the theme for the day, landing this fish was going to be a family affair.
Colby and others at the hole caught glimpses of the fish, a huge muskie, as it swam past the opening in the ice. Wayne set up across from Colby, poised to help if needed, while filming with his cellphone.
“Julie’s with us today,” Jeff Bernier said to Wayne. “She’s looking over Colby right here.”
At last, with the men chattering with excitement, Colby began to hoist the fish through the ice. Its head had barely cleared the surface when the leader suddenly snapped.
“No way, grab it!” someone said.
Wayne immediately plunged his hand into the hole, up to his elbow, hoping to snare the fish by the gills. There wasn’t enough room to do so, so he instead muckled onto the snout of the muskie and snatched it out.
“I don’t know how the heck I was able to hold that fish at the end of my fingertips by his mouth,” Wayne said.
He got help from Colby and Cole, who each grabbed with both hands and hoisted the 47-inch, 26-pound fish onto the ice. The men erupted with shouting and laughter amid a joyous celebration.
Colby fell to his knees to inspect the specimen and then rolled onto his back briefly, clearly exhausted and emotional, before picking up the muskie and holding it up for all to see.
“My grandson was just overwhelmed,” Wayne said. “He fell on the ground and was crying.
“That angel looked down on us and said, here you go, Colby,” he added.
The event brought out plenty of emotion among family members as they reflected on the tribute to Julie, who was a Registered Maine Guide and an avid angler and hunter.
“Everybody knew why we were all there and there were a lot of tears,” Wayne said. “God took her away from us a little too early, but she’s not suffering any more.”