April 9, 2008
This article can be found at the Cabela’s Outfitter Journal.
Many anglers come for the trout, but this underutilized Maine river gives up smallmouths, too.
The 4-inch salty stick worm had barely touched down when a dark shadow rose from a crevice between granite boulders. As the shadow materialized into a smallmouth bass, it launched upward and snatched the lure.
The fish responded to the hookset like any respectable river smallie should — it went airborne. After four jumps and several drag-pulling runs, I secured a thumb-and-forefinger lock on the lower lip of the 2-pounder, held it up for my companions to see and then immediately released it.
Capturing an explosive smallmouth on my first cast from a river I never fished before is exhilarating. However, in this instance the credit goes to Master Guide Sandy MacGregor for putting me on a great spot in Maine’s Androscoggin River.
The initial plan had been for a day-long float by drift boat. But sporadic torrential downpours were sweeping through the area. Upon reevaluation, we opted instead to wade-fish several spots on the river accessible from vehicle pull-offs between Rumford and East Peru. Whenever a wicked-looking storm cloud approached, we immediately sought the safety of MacGregor’s SUV.
Although we were fishing river stretches easily accessible to all anglers, our catch was pretty darn good. Between dodging storms and enjoying a leisurely lunch, we were rewarded with nearly 50 bass caught and released by three anglers.
“My clients are roughly 60 percent fly-fishermen and 40 percent spin fishermen,” said MacGregor, who guides over a 40-mile stretch of the Androscoggin between Rumford and Turner. “It’s not unusual for them to individually have 30 to 40 fish per day, and sometimes more. The majority of smallies range from 14 to 18 inches, but there is a good chance at a 4-pounder as well. The Androscoggin actually produces bigger bass when compared to Maine’s most popular smallmouth rivers, the Kennebec and Penobscot.”
A smallmouth fishery of this quality should be a major draw, yet MacGregor feels the Androscoggin is underutilized.
“On any weekday, I can go down to the river in the evening and be the only one on the water,” he said.
Twenty miles upriver at Bethel, Sun Valley Sports owner Rocky Freda shares the same opinion.
“We have a great smallmouth fishery on the Androscoggin that certainly can handle a lot more fishermen,” he said. “People just need to know about it. While the majority of our clients are interested in trout, the percentage of smallmouth fishermen is about 20 percent and growing.”
It is the river’s historic reputation, however, that may be keeping the Androscoggin from achieving the present-day recognition it deserves. Before enforcement of clean water regulations, effluent from paper mills in New Hampshire and Maine had devastated the Androscoggin. However, in the last 20 years, the river has made a remarkable recovery. Today, the Andro (as the locals refer to it) supports an impressive fishery consisting of smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout and landlocked salmon.
On day two of my Androscoggin adventure, I fished with Nate Wight in his hand-built drift boat. Wight is a full-time guide for Sun Valley Sports. Our float was on a less-developed portion of the river above Bethel. Here practically all signs of civilization are masked by either steep hillsides or a wide border of trees along the banks, thereby providing a picture-perfect float with a wilderness flavor.
However, post-frontal high blue skies kept fish activity to a minimum. I managed a sampling of smallmouth along with a brown trout or two, but we did not approach the number of fish Wight’s clients typically catch. (Well, someone has to take the hit once in awhile to keep the averages honest!)
“Summertime is smallmouth time on the Andro,” said Wight. “We just hit a bit of a bad day with the change in water conditions from the storm.”
According to Wight, whether using fly or spin tackle, anglers in July and August score on smallmouths with crayfish and baitfish imitations fished below the surface. Spin fishermen typically throw floating minnow plugs, spinners, soft plastic jigs and small wobbling spoons on 8-pound line.
Among local guides, a 9-foot, 6-weight fly rod is most popular, although anything from a 5-weight to 8-weight will work. Fly anglers should pack crayfish imitators, Woolly Buggers and streamers. Among MacGregor’s favorites are Deep Clouser Minnows. However, the standard patterns are not his most productive. Instead he ties patterns that represent the chief forage for Andro smallies: baby rainbow trout, baby brown trout and blacknose dace.
For the gadabout angler, the town of Bethel (a winter ski resort) offers an abundance of summer lodging and family recreational opportunities.
Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce
Sun Valley Sports
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries