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Angler's Journal: A Place Where Fish Are Cured

By King Montgomery

The Androscoggin, Maine's third-largest river, follows a 178-mile convoluted course from the White Mountains of New Hampshire until it joins the Kennebec River in Merrymeeting Bay near Brunswick, about 20 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. The first part of the river is trout water with brown, rainbow and brook trout from the headwaters until the vicinity of Rumford. The smallmouth bass take over as the river slows, warms and widens. There are a number of places where you can catch bass and trout on alternating casts.

The Abenaki meaning of "Androscoggin" is said to be "the place where fish are cured," which probably refers to earlier times when locals processed the alewives, smelt, shad, striped bass, eels, Atlantic salmon and others that congregated on their upstream spawning runs. At one time, salmon went as far as what is now Rumford, but the gauntlets posed by dams, pollution, overharvesting and other man-made afflictions have doomed the once considerable migrations.

The Pine Tree State has long been known for superb angling for landlocked salmon and trout, particularly native brook trout. But many of the rivers, especially away from their headwaters, are home to healthy populations of chunky and spirited smallmouth bass.

Blaine and Bonnie Holding accompanied Lefty Kreh and I on our adventure drifting the Andro. Bonnie is a topnotch registered Maine guide and Blaine was a proud member of the Maine Warden Service. He was Outstanding Warden of the Year in 2006 and is now retired. Both are avid and "wicked" good fly anglers (to use the Maine vernacular).

Bill Pierce of Rangeley Heritage Trust rowed one Clackacraft drift boat and Farmington guide Michael Jones would maneuver the other. One day, Bill Swan from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife spelled Mike at the helm. We fished the Rumford, Mexico and Dixfield stretches of the river. Although the action was not hot and heavy early this fall, the fish we caught were large and healthy.

"Get that darn trash fish off my line," admonished Kreh, the venerable fly-fishing legend from the Baltimore area with a grin as Jones moved to unhook the gorgeous 18-inch brown trout that hit a streamer. The Mainers onboard the two boats grimaced a bit as Lefty chuckled as only he can. You see, after bonefish, smallmouth are his favorite fish to catch, and they are his favorite freshwater fish. He thinks very highly of Mr. Smallmouth Bass.

"Here, cast this for a while," said Jones later as he handed me a popper he'd just as soon I not photograph or describe in too much detail. My weighted streamers cast on both floating and Teeny MiniTip lines were picking up an occasional bass, but it was time for a change.

I took the bug and looked around. It was midday, about 80 degrees, and the sky defined the color of a bluebird. I didn't hesitate to tie on the fly because I'd been here before. Sometimes the best time to throw a surface fly is right smack in the middle of a hot, high-sky day. Sure enough, I took several bass along the bank and rocks, and they averaged well over two pounds. They smacked the topwater offering with abandon. Lesson learned: Try a popper, slider or diver during the middle of the day. You'll be surprised how aggressively fish attack it.

King Montgomery, our outdoors editor, fishes Maine at least once a year. He says Maine is "like it used to be in other, more populated places in the land." The state, like Maryland and Virginia, has excellent fresh- and saltwater fishing, but it's not as crowded.

Contact King at anglersjournal@aol.com.

Issue 150: June 2010