Hunter Cote of Otis is all smiles after pulling this seven-pound, 28-inch landlocked salmon out of Long Lake in Aroostook County on Feb. 11. Credit: Courtesy of Ryan Fish

Hunter Cote had heard the stories about the huge landlocked salmon caught every year at Long Lake in Aroostook County.

He usually frequents Green Lake and Beech Hill Pond, both near his home in Otis, where the salmon don’t reach the size of the Long Lake bruisers.

Recently, Cote was invited to join some friends for a trip up north. The group of five arrived on Thursday and wound up fishing during a significant snowstorm on Friday.

“I fished five traps and I was the only guy that didn’t catch a fish,” Cote said of getting skunked.

By Saturday, the enthusiasm had waned somewhat. The anglers decided to hang out at their rented camp and fish right out in front.

Two of the men deployed three traps each while two others opted to lay low and hang out in the camp without wetting a line. Cote figured he might as well put forth at least a token effort.

One of his buddies drilled some holes and left one of them open for Cote, who rigged his “lucky” black Heritage tip-up with a smelt and decided to call it good. Only 15 minutes later, he had a flag and caught a small salmon.

Having run out of large so-called jack smelts, he re-rigged the trap with a small one and walked away.

“I didn’t even get back up to camp and my flag went back off,” Cote said. “I thought for sure it was just going to be a wind flag or something.”

When he peered into the hole, the spool was not moving, so he removed the trap. That’s when the semi-frozen spool started turning.

“It felt like a togue,” Cote said of the considerable resistance. “It feels like it’s coming, but it’s not. It’s all just dead weight.”

He began worrying about his 6-pound test and whether it could handle the stress of the situation. He even feared that maybe his line had become wrapped around a log or other submerged obstacle.

Finally, Cote slowly began to win the tug of war and pull the fish closer to the surface.

“It ran on me three times before I finally got him into the hole,” he said of the tenuous tussle, which lasted between 15 and 20 minutes. “My buddy [Ryan Fish] put his hand down and yanked it right out.”

That’s when the enormity of the situation finally hit home. The beautiful salmon weighed seven pounds and measured 28 inches.

“I’ve never caught a salmon that big, not even remotely close,” said Cote, who admitted there was a lot of celebrating.

“Everybody was looking at the fish, yelling and screaming out the windows,” he said. “It was a fun time.”

Had it been caught the previous weekend, they pointed out, it would have been the winning entry for salmon in the Long Lake Ice Fishing Derby. That fish weighed 5 pounds, 8.3 ounces and measured 26 inches.

The catch spurred the other members of the group to cut some holes and place some traps, but their luck had run out.

“It was pretty crazy. We didn’t even catch a fish after that,” said Cote, who has been amazed by the response to his fish by other anglers on social media.

The group, which caught 16 fish overall during the trip, also snagged a four pounder as part of its efforts.

Cote can’t help but wonder whether he’ll get invited back to Long Lake the next time the group plans a trip. But he has a hunch he might.

“After I caught that fish, they said, ‘Geez, we shouldn’t have brought you up,’” Cote said. “I think they want the good luck on their side now.”

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...