Paul McGurren of Lincolnville was an avid fly fisherman, Registered Maine Guide and the go-to man in the fly shop at Maine Sport Outfitters in Rockport. He died in April at the age of 73. Credit: Courtesy of Tim Shaw

When Roy Hitchings and Paul McGurren traveled on a bucket list trip to New Brunswick to fish for Atlantic salmon on the famed Miramichi River in April, it was with a modest goal.

“I don’t need to land one, but I just want to hook one and feel the power of it,” McGurren told Hitchings.

McGurren got his wish when he hooked and landed a gorgeous, 33-inch Atlantic salmon, then released it. The trip, his last outing, was a success.

The next day, McGurren’s health took an unexpected turn for the worse and the pair cut the trip short and returned to Maine.

“Ten days after he caught that fish, he died,” Hitchings said. “But it was the first Atlantic salmon and arguably one of the best fish he ever caught. And it was the last fish he ever caught.”

McGurren, 73, had been battling cancer for two years, but Hitchings couldn’t help but think it was a fitting way for his friend to end an amazing life.

For more than three decades, McGurren ran the fly shop at Maine Sport Outfitters in Rockport, the hub of the midcoast fly fishing community. The Lincolnville man was the go-to guy for anglers of all ages and experience levels. He was eager to share a wealth of information and guidance, along with a great story.

Paul McGurren gives two thumbs up minutes after catching his first Atlantic salmon, a 33-inch specimen, while fishing on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick. McGurren died in April, 10 days after caching the fish. Credit: Courtesy of Mark Donovan

McGurren’s passing on April 27 left a void among fly anglers in the area.

“He was the center of the fly fishing community here in midcoast Maine and that includes Waldo, Knox and Lincoln County, for 30 years,” said Hitchings, who met McGurren at Maine Sport Outfitters when he moved to Maine 25 years ago.

After McGurren invited Hitchings to a meeting of the Georges River Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the men became fast friends and shared many memorable fishing outings over the years. Hitchings, who lives in Camden, now serves as the president of that group.

McGurren also worked as a Registered Maine Guide and sought to educate anglers about key fishing and conservation issues. He wrote for the likes of Fly Rod and Reel and Down East magazines.

“He volunteered for whatever needed to be done,” said fly fisherman Terry Walsh of Warren. “He was an active TU member and very dedicated. He really loved what he was doing.”

McGurren had a way of putting people at ease when talking with them at the fly shop. Tim Shaw went in looking for some information after moving to Maine and quickly received a wealth of intel.

McGurren was also not shy about sharing details about equipment, the right flies to use and even spots where people might find fish. He even invited some folks to join him for an outing.

Sometimes, when pointing out a good fishing location, McGurren might even pull a DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer off the rack and make notes right on the pages.

“There aren’t as many fly shops as there used to be in Maine, so he was sort of the glue that sort of held us together,” Shaw said. “He was an information exchange.”

From left: Paul McGurren pictured in an undated photo. Credit: Courtesy of Tim Shaw

McGurren was born in Massachusetts, but settled in Maine after attending Colby College in Waterville. He enjoyed a successful career as a chef, but eventually realized that he would rather be on the water.

“He was a congenial guy, full of knowledge, but never a showoff so people would gravitate to him about any type of question about fishing in general or fly fishing, especially,” Hitchings said.

McGurren’s eagerness to help sometimes came at a price — at least for those who wanted the location of some “secret” spots to be kept under wraps.

Years ago, Walsh and McGurren discovered a productive piece of water on the East Outlet of the Kennebec River. Several midcoast friends went there together to fish each fall.

Both men vowed not to reveal their hot spot.

“He swore he would never tell anybody where it was, and he told everybody,” Walsh said with a laugh.

One secret McGurren did not divulge was his favorite locations for picking fiddleheads. Only family members knew, but McGurren was quick to share the tasty treats with many friends.

Anglers praised McGurren for his willingness to share information about fly fishing and fisheries, including the importance of catch-and-release, the proper handling of fish and the threat of invasive species.

The one-time head of the Maine Council of Trout Unlimited championed other natural resources and conservation causes. McGurren picked up trash that he discovered along streams and for many years held a women’s fly fishing seminar.

“He embodied the sport,” Shaw said. “It wasn’t just catching fish. It was respecting nature and learning about nature.”

To honor McGurren’s memory, Georges River Trout Unlimited has created the Paul McGurren Fund. Money raised will support the organization’s mission to preserve, protect and restore coldwater fisheries and watersheds with efforts such as student scholarships to Maine Trout Camp and TU national events, education classes and fly fishing, and fly tying instruction and stream safety.

Gifts can be made on the GRTU website or by sending a check made out to GRTU c/o David Williams, treasurer, P.O. Box 839, Rockport, ME 04856.

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...