Maine guide, trapper honored for 65 years in the woods

When Jim Martin of Bangor was honored over the weekend for a lifetime lived outdoors, he stopped to ponder how much time he’d spent in the woods pursuing one of his favorite activities, trapping.

Jim Martin recently received an award for lifetime achievement from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Gabor Degre | BDN

Jim Martin recently received an award for lifetime achievement from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Gabor Degre | BDN

“I figured it out the other day,” the 77-year-old said. “I’ve trapped [at least one] beaver for 62 winters. I trapped two years, when I was 13 and 14, and I didn’t catch anything, and I missed two winters out of, say, 65 winters, when I didn’t trap.”

It’s that kind of experience — along with all the hours he has spent guiding, fishing and volunteering to help the Maine Youth Fish and Game Association — that led to his nomination for the award. On Saturday, he was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at the annual Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine banquet.

Two other accomplished outdoorsmen were also honored with lifetime achievement awards. Oscar Cronk of Wiscasset is a long-time trapper, hunter, fisherman and outdoor writer. Gary Cobb of North New Portland grew up in an outdoors family and raised his family in a remote camp. He has worked as a guide and teacher and owned and operated Pierce Pond Camps.

On Monday, Martin was back volunteering, as he helped teach fly fishing to veterans at a Project Healing Waters outing.

Nearby, one of the men who nominated Martin for the award watched, smiling broadly.

“He’s a jack of all trades when it comes to the outdoors,” said Maine Game Warden Jim Fahey, who, along with guide Robin Avery filed the nomination papers on behalf of their friend. “He has a beautiful camp that he built. He fishes out of boats that he built himself.”

And at age 77, Martin is still very active, Fahey said.

“Just the other day I went with him, we were looking for some moose sign on my day off,” Fahey said. “I dawdled somewhat, picking blackberries, but I had a hard time keeping up with him. He can still move.”

Fahey told me quite a few stories about Jim Martin that day, just before I got a chance to talk with the man of the hour himself. Fahey chuckled as I headed Martin’s way for an official interview.

“He’s a gentleman and a class act,” Fahey said. “I’ve probably said more than he would, because it’s not his nature.”

But after a slow start, Martin was willing to tell a few tales of his own. The outdoors, he said, has always been his playground.

“I’ve always liked the outdoors. I like the water, the rivers, especially the Penobscot River,” he said.

Martin grew up on the Penobscot, renting boats that his father, Pepper Martin, built. He first became a Maine guide at age 17, when legendary game warden Mose Jackson signed off on his abilities, as was the custom back then.

Then he began taking fly-fishing “sports” to ponds in the woods above the current Telos Road, which didn’t exist at the time.

During his adult years, jobs working in construction and as a cement-finisher in Millinocket and Bucksport kept him too busy to guide full time.

But that didn’t mean he gave up on his outdoor pursuits. In fact, he was particularly committed to fishing for Atlantic salmon in his home river, the Penobscot.

“One June — I only fished the month of June — I at least hooked a fish and had it on for a few minutes every day [that month],” Martin said.

In order to do that, he had to rise early, and commit to returning to the river after work if he’d had no success during the morning session.

“I’d get up at 2 o’clock in the morning, [prepare] my lunch, go down there and get my boat out and fish,” he said. “If I didn’t catch a fish, I’d come in [off the river] at about 6 o’clock, sometimes 6:30, and drive to Millinocket.

Then, after work let out at 4 p.m., he’d rush back to the river and fish until dark.

His passion for the outdoors is obvious to folks like Fahey, and the game warden was happy that his friend was recognized for a life well-lived in the outdoors.

“I just admire his skill sets and his demeanor,” Fahey said. “He’s a real Maine gentleman, Maine sportsman.”

John Holyoke can be reached at or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.