This dedicated Maine angler set out to catch "a mile of togue," and has more than surpassed his incredible goal. Here's how he did it.
By Sheila Grant
Steve Greenleaf's passion is fishing for (in his opinion) the only fish that matters - lake trout (otherwise known as togue in Maine).
When Greenleaf isn't fishing, his hobbies include getting ready to go fishing, reporting the togue he's caught to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and attending meetings of organizations that focus on fishing. He's on the board of Maine's first chapter of the Maine Youth Fish and Game Association, is coordinator of a Georgia Pacific work crew that helps out at the IFW Fish Cultural Station and hatchery in Enfield, and is active in the Cold Stream Pond Camp Owner's Association.
Greenleaf, who has been tracking the Penobscot County togue he's pulled from Cold Stream Pond in Enfield since 1984, recently tallied all those inches of fish and found that he'd caught over a mile of togue.
"That's a lot of togue," he said. "You'd think with that many fish I'd eventually catch some big ones, but I haven't."
He motions to some catches he deemed worthy of mounting, now hanging on the walls of his den. There's the May '88 togue, 26.5 inches and 9 pounds. In June '88, he pulled in an 11-pounder measuring 31 inches. The June of '92 togue won another spot on the wall, weighing 10.5 pounds and measuring 29.5 inches. Not to be outdone by all these spring catches, Greenleaf's largest togue (taken through the ice in January of '94) measured 29.5 inches and weighed in at 13.5 pounds.
"I was fishing alone when I caught all these fish," he said. "Luckily, the ice was not too thick. All I had to do was reach down into the hole and pull them out. But two of these fish were taken on rough, open water, and I'm handicapped, so I had to stay put, hold the pole with one hand and net them with the other."
Enfield's Steve Greenleaf has dedicated himself to catching lake trout and has taken over 60,000 inches of fish! Photo by Sheila Grant
Greenleaf lost his left leg in an industrial accident, so he can't easily switch positions in a boat, but his handicap hasn't slowed him down.
HOW MANY TOGUE? How many togue does it take to measure 63,360 inches or one mile? That would be 3,755 fish, and all of them were taken from the same body of water.
Greenleaf has a problem he admits most anglers would love to deal with. Just yards from his front door lies a pond with too many togue in it!
"Anglers are strongly encouraged to remove their daily bag limit of five lake trout/togue," reads the IFW sign posted at the boat landing.
"Up until five years ago, you couldn't get me to kill a togue," he said. "But now that the pond is overrun with lake trout, the size and quantity of the fish is declining."
Greenleaf, 56, has been fishing for togue since 1970. He, his wife, Lynn, and their yellow Lab puppy, Blondie, live on the pond in the year-round home the couple purchased in 1995.
"We lived in Old Town all our lives. We had a seasonal place on Cold Stream Pond from 1983 to 1995, when we decided to sell both places and buy a year-round home on the lake. It's one of the best decisions we've ever made," he said.
HOW HE DOES IT Greenleaf, who loves to talk fishing almost as much as he loves actually doing it, shared the four rules of success he lives by for taking togue:
"Live bait. Big spinners. Lead-core line. Go to the bottom. Look for deep water where the bottom comes up quick. That's usually where the fish are.
"I use a single hook so I can release a fish if I want to," he said. "I attach the line to the hook (size 1/0) with fly-tying thread and sew this into the bait."
Greenleaf threads the hook through the top of the head of his live bait, and then down through the bottom of the lower jaw, looping it through twice. The hook then goes inside the gills, and he makes stitches all the way down the side of the bait to the ventral slit so the line is hidden behind the skin. Just the barb and the curve of the hook extend out of the ventral slit.
Greenleaf said "sewing for togue" was a common technique for years, but people have gotten away from this old method of fishing in favor of new technology, such as the downrigger.
"The object is to get the bait down to the bottom without hanging up because that's where the togue are," he continues. "To get that deep, I use a big spinner. Every time the spinner makes a revolution, it makes the tip of the pole bob. If your pole is not moving, you know you're catching bottom. Reel up just enough line to be about 10 feet off the bottom."
Greenleaf is proud of his homemade spinners. They are very large, 5.5 inches long, and are designed to serve as an added attractant to the fish. He makes spinners out of copper, brass, stainless steel and chrome.
"I even made one out of an old toaster."
That spinner is teardrop shaped with dimples stamped into the surface of the metal.
Greenleaf cuts the spinners into shape with tin snips and grinds the edges to a smooth finish. The teardrop is then placed into a wood mold. The top is placed on the mold and the whole works goes into a small press to give the spinner its slightly concave shape.
The spinner then goes into another wood form with nails and corresponding holes in the top of the form. When squeezed in a hydraulic jack, this mold stamps dimples into the surface of the spinner. Attached to this with a clevis (to allow the free rotation of the spinner) is a 7-inch wire covered with red beads, swivels and snap pins attached to each end.
Greenleaf attaches his spinners to lead-core line.
"Lead-core line fishing is a dying art," Greenleaf said. "You can hardly buy the stuff anymore. But, it gets your spinner and bait down to the bottom quicker when you're trolling. If you used monofilament, you'd have to use four times the amount of line to reach the same depth."
"With lead-core line, it's not like using a downrigger. You need to be on the pole all the time," Greenleaf said. "I know a lot of people who've been fishing for 20 years who don't know how to do it. I want that pole in my hand so I can be ready to set t
he hook when a fish bites."
Greenleaf conceded that one advantage of using a downrigger is that a lightweight spinning outfit can be used, making it easier to play the fish. His lead-core pole is 9 feet long and is relatively heavy. It is wrapped in thick layers of black electrical tape to buffer it from the various hard edges along gunwales of the boat. The mahogany reel holds 200 yards of lead-core line, and is about 6 inches in diameter and is not as heavy as it looks.
GO DEEP! "I always fish deep, in 40 to 90 feet of water, no matter what the time of year," Greenleaf said. "A lot of anglers like to fish on top as soon as the ice goes out, but I send my baits right to the bottom."
BE PATIENT What is the most important requirement in catching Maine togue?
"Patience," Greenleaf said. "Anybody can do what I'm doing. It's just taking the time and having the opportunity. I've put in a lot of hours out there."
Greenleaf said that in all his years of record keeping he has never found a pattern indicating that time of day, wind or weather affected the day's catch.
"High pressure, low pressure, wind, flat water, rough water - I can't find a pattern," he said. "But I routinely fish in the early morning, when there's no boat traffic and conditions are calm."
What's his best fishing story? "I've got so many. It's fair to say they've all been the best."
However, on display in his den is a photo of two togue taken in Canada in 1972 just before he suffered his accident.
"It was like hooking onto a Volkswagen," he said of the 18-pounder. "And then that 22-pounder hit!
"Other than my family, fishing is the most important thing in my life," Greenleaf admitted.
"It may sound corny, but every time I catch a fish, I thank God. On Sundays, when the sounds of the church bells drift over the water, I don't think I can be any closer to Heaven than I am right there, if you know what I mean."
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