FORT KENT – Joey Guimond had never caught a muskie before he hooked into the 3-foot, 3-inch monster that won him $1,000 last weekend.

The 13-year-old Fort Kent native was just fishing in his family’s Old Town canoe with his father, as he’s done for most of his life. Then with one cast to an ordinary pool, a 15.1-pound muskie hooked on his line.

But what fishermen in other parts of the country would say is the “big fish tale” here is the kid’s attitude after landing a monster muskie. Changed fishing philosophy? Fan of the big-fish fight?

Not for a fly fisherman raised on wild trout ponds.

“I still prefer salmon and trout fishing,” said Guimond on the shore of the St. John River.

That’s what makes the Fort Kent Muskie Derby by the Canadian border unique among muskie tournaments, which are mostly held out West in the fish’s native waters.

While locals enjoy the competition and the camaraderie in a derby based smack downtown — they still love their native brook trout fisheries.

“Knock on wood every day, I pray to God every day that we’ll never see (muskie) in the Fish River chain of lakes,” said Muskie derby official Dave Kelso, a registered Maine Guide.

“In southern Maine, northern pike are taking a taxi around. It’s nice up here — everyone seems to appreciate our native wild trout.”

There is no bag limit or season on muskie in Maine. State biologists don’t want the non-native fish here.

Muskie got into the St. John River after being stocked in a nearby lake in Quebec in 1970, said state biologist Dave Basley in Ashland.

The fish found its way down the St. John River, up the St. Francis, and into Beau and Glazier lakes, as well as into the Allagash River as far as Allagash Falls. Having reached several natural barriers, biologists are hoping the fish moves no more.

“It seems to have gone where it’s going to go,” Basley said. “It’s a credit to people up here that they do value trout fishing and they don’t move them around, unlike some other parts of the state.”

But a fascination with the muskie exists, and fans of the fish in Fort Kent want to see the sport fishery grow.

Four years ago, the derby drew 430 fishermen; last weekend there were just shy of 300.

But the biggest fish taken in the derby’s eight-year history was caught this year, a 433/8-inch muskie taken by Ron Morin, who is from New Brunswick.

And by the second day of this year’s tournament, there were already five muskie caught over 40 inches. By the end there was a total of seven.

“They’re naturally bigger this year for some reason,” said derby founder Lewis “Phil” Soucy proudly.

At the center of town beside Bee Jay’s Tavern, the main weigh station sat under a tent full of muskie T-shirts, muskie ball caps and, best of all, muskie. A display case full of ice allowed the leaders to be laid out for all to see.

When a big muskie was brought in — one meeting the minimum length requirement of 36 inches — a big bell at the tent was rung and locals gathered ’round. Passersby stopped to check out the huge fish and take photos.

Kelso let 7-year-old Alexis Tardie of Fort Kent hold up the biggest muskie — which required Tardie to reach over her head.

Paula Charette of Fort Kent stopped to photograph the leaders for her son. Last year, Carson Charette won the biggest fish in the youth division — taking home $500.

“He was just in college. That was a big check. Now there are so many fishing this, great skilled fishermen,” Charette says.

And muskie fans in Fort Kent hope their ranks grow.

Kelso, who competed on the bass fishing pro tour for five years, says the fishing is faster here than out West because the muskie in Maine have no natural predators.

Western anglers go after muskie in 20-foot boats. In the St. John River, the muskie fishing is from a canoe, making it more of a challenge.

“Here it’s into the back country,” Kelso says. “You’ve got to get to them through 15 inches of (river) water. You need a guy who’s good at poling.”

Soucy thinks muskie fishing in Maine can grow, if the state gets behind the fish. He doesn’t understand why state and federal government puts money into Atlantic salmon restoration and not the muskie.

“It’s highly political,” Soucy says, disgusted.

Kelso, who markets muskie lures, thinks if enough fishermen travel to Fort Kent to try it, the sport here will grow.

“I’m on the Aroostook County Tourism board of directors. We want to make the St. John Valley a destination for hard-core fishermen. It’s a cult in other parts of the country,” Kelso said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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