Registered Maine Guide Tom Welch, right, hands a brook trout to John Smith of Arundel in the Smith’s living room on July 15. Welch caught the fish and delivered it to Smith as a belated Father’s Day gift from Smith’s stepson, Randy Cyr, who lives in South Carolina. (ANTHONY LOMBARDI/Journal Tribune

ARUNDEL – Tom Welch has provided guiding services for a decade, but he’d never heard a request as unusual as the one he got this spring. 

Welch, a Registered Maine Guide and the founder and owner of Magalloway Guide Service, LLC, received a phone call in late May from a man in South Carolina who asked him to catch a brook trout for his 79-year-old stepfather, John Smith, as a Father’s Day gift. 

The caller, Biddeford native and former Saco resident Randy Cyr, offered Welch as much of a monetary reward as he desired to bring his house-ridden stepfather the fish. Welch politely declined half of Cyr’s offer. 

“I love my job, and I also love to fish,” Welch said. “Randy offered to pay me at the outset, and I told him that the request was so unusual and so heartfelt that I wouldn’t know what to charge for such a thing. I was happier to do it as a favor for him, even though I had never met him.” 

A gentle and honorable man 

Cyr, 62, was already 38 years old when John Smith became his stepfather, but he respects the way he’s treated his family since marrying his mother, Marge Smith, in 1995. After Marge Smith, 82, lost her husband in 1992 to cancer, she moved from Danforth back to Saco, where she grew up as a young adult. Shortly after, she met John Smith, who needed some help with his housework and gardening at his Arundel home. 

Their friendship blossomed into romance. 

“They fell in love and married,” Cyr said. “Even though I never knew John as a father, he has treated my mother and my (four) siblings as well as you could expect. He’s a gentle and honorable man and has made my mother happy.” 

Cyr, who serves as an arborist in Greenville, South Carolina, only gets to see his family every few years. Even from about an 18-hour drive away, though, he could tell how important his mom’s relationship with John Smith turned out to be. 

“Here, she can garden, paint, and knit to her heart’s content,” Cyr said. “In this new environment, Mom has flourished. A lot of that has to do with John and the warm home he has provided her through the years.” 

As a show of his appreciation, Cyr remembers his stepfather every Father’s Day. 

He always sends stuff, said John Smith as he pointed around his living room at various hunting, fishing, bird-watching and Maine logging books that Cyr has mailed over the years. But catalog gifts can get old so Cyr thought he’d do something a little bit different this time around. 

A stranger on the end of a phone line

Nobody seemed interested in Cyr’s offer of catching a brook trout for his stepfather at first, he said. Cyr discovered that you can’t pay someone to catch a brook trout for you. In Maine, you must go through a guide. And none were biting. 

Even after Father’s Day, June 16, had passed, Cyr continued his search for a guide. He was beginning to feel a little discouraged that he might have to wait another year to surprise his stepfather when he received a call back from Welch, who had just returned to his home in Old Orchard Beach following several weeks of guiding excursions. 

Brook trouts are a freshwater fish native to eastern North America. (File photo)

“I did say I would be glad to pay for his time, (but) he finally said that he would not be able to take money,” Cyr said. “As much as I insisted compensating him in some way, he said he was all but glad to do this for me. A stranger on the end of a phone line.” 

Welch told Cyr that he’d be honored to be involved in the surprise but that he wouldn’t be in a position to catch and keep a trout until the last week of June, when he was scheduled to take his annual trip to Grants Camps. 

“Though I’ve been an avid fly fisherman for more than 35 years, I don’t fish when I’m guiding, so I don’t have an opportunity to fish for pleasure many times during the season,” Welch said. “I do, however, make it a point to fish in my territory in Rangeley several times in a season, and one of those preplanned trips is a week fishing the Kennebago River and Kennebago Lake.” 

During the several days of fishing, Welch caught a dozen or more trout and salmon and kept one that was about 12 inches. “A good size for a little meal,” he said. 

Welch had the camp staff clean and freeze the fish, and the trout was stored on ice for about a week. When he returned home, he made arrangements with Cyr to deliver the fish.

“I’ve guided a lot … over the years – too many to count off the top of my head –  but I’m sure I’ll remember this one for the rest of my career,” Welch said. “I can’t charge someone for something like that. Nonetheless, it remains the most unusual assignment I’ve had as a Maine Guide, for sure.”

The outdoors – I love it

John Smith has always loved the outdoors. It’s been years since he’s been able to enjoy nature the way he once did. 

A jubilant smile flashed across his face when he recalled the fishing season that he caught more than 100 trout across his various secret spots. Bad knees, hips and back, though, have confined him to his home where he watches boxing, reads the newspaper everyday and uses the bird-watching book his stepson sent him to identify unknown feathered friends who perch nearby. 

“There’s nothing you can do,” John Smith said. “It’s really hard – it’s hard. I’d love to be able to go out. The outdoors – I love it.” 

The brook trout, a freshwater fish native to eastern North America, has always been one of John Smith’s and Cyr’s favorite fish to catch. John Smith would share photos and tales of some of the huge “brookies” he caught through the years, and Cyr grew up giving the fish away to friends and relatives.  

It was around 10:30 a.m. on July 15 when Welch pulled into the Smith’s driveway in Arundel with a brook trout neatly packaged in white wrapping. Marge Smith saw the car and came out on the patio to see who was paying them a visit.  

Welch explained to her why he was there and she invited him inside to surprise her husband. 

“I was shocked. It was awfully nice of him,” John Smith said. “That made my day.” 

Not one for making many phone calls, John Smith dialed his stepson that afternoon to express his appreciation. No thanks was needed. 

“John has been a great father,” Cyr said. “We won’t always have him. Why not try to take good care of him while he is with us? I can’t do much away, but I can do at least this little thing.” 

 

Comments are not available on this story.