After years of hearing rumors about an extraordinary bass fishery in Maine's Androscoggin River, I just had to check out the stories for myself.
The tales were true, says Dennis McNeish, the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife's (MDIFW) regional fisheries biologist for central Maine.
"The Androscoggin supports a superb smallmouth fishery one that's yet to be discovered by anglers," says McNeish, who is also the state's bass program leader. "If you pass up fishing the Androscoggin, you're missing an experience that's virtually unsurpassed."
Other fisheries biologists John Boland in southern Maine and David Boucher, who handles the western part of the state are equally enthusiastic about the smallmouth bounty in their sections of the Androscoggin.
The river's upper sections in northern New Hampshire are renowned for trout and landlocked salmon fishing, and good trout populations are found all the way south to Berlin, N.H. A few miles south of there, the river turns east and crosses the Maine border, finally emptying into the ocean at Merrymeeting Bay in Brunswick.
However, beginning at Rumford Falls, a few miles east of the New Hampshire border, smallmouth take over as the river's dominant species, and virtually the entire river from Rumford Falls downstream, approximately 150 miles to Brunswick, teems with husky smallmouth. Moreover, fishing pressure is very light, even nonexistent on some sections of the river.
Consequently, you're practically guaranteed to find quality smallmouth anywhere along Maine's share of the river, especially during the spawning ritual of late May and June. Fishing is almost as good, the biologists say, during the Indian summer period of fall, when cooling water temperatures invigorate the bass and trigger sometimes incredible feeding sprees.
My wife, Lillian, and I fished the river for five days in late September, and we can attest that the bass fishing was about as good as it gets. In fact, we've already scheduled a return trip.
With 150 miles of blue-ribbon smallmouth water to choose from, a Bassmaster could be in a bit of quandary about where to start fishing.
If you want plenty of action and don't mind fishing near densely populated areas, the lower river especially the Lewiston Falls-to-Lisbon Falls section and the Pejepscot Dam-to-Brunswick stretch offers outstanding fishing. This section sports ample boat launch facilities capable of handling bass boats, something that can't be said for the remainder of the river.
My favorite section is the Turner-to-Howes Corner reach. In this run, the shoreline is undeveloped, and wind-fallen trees, sweepers and boulders provide a wealth of superlative, but sometimes hazardous, shoreline cover.
There's a state boat launch facility in Turner on the Center Bridge Road, just across the bridge.
After putting in at the state launch and heading upriver, you get the feeling you're fishing a remote river in northern Maine or Canada. From there to the Howes Corner Bridge, about 10 miles upstream, about all a person is likely to see or hear is perhaps a deer drinking at the water's edge.
To top it off, the smallmouth fishing is phenomenal. Each day on the water, we caught and released a bundle of 2- to 3-pound smallies on our fly-rod bugs and lures. As a bit of frosting on the cake, just as we were about to head in on our last day on the river, I pitched a Size 6 Slippery Clyde bug (Gaine's) next to a pine blowdown, and a big slab of bronze immediately rolled up and sucked in my bug. It was a bit hairy keeping the lunker out of the branches of the dead pine, but eventually I was able to reach down and grab a 4 3/4-pound brown bass, the best smallie of the trip.
While in Turner, don't overlook the Nezinscot River, a tributary of the Androscoggin. It's a small river and is easily waded or fished out of a small canoe, and it's loaded with 12- to 16-inch smallies. If you enjoy smallmouth fishing with a light fly rod and a selection of big dry flies and small bugs or an ultralight spinning rig and small topwater lures, you'll have a ball on the Nezinscot.
The section between Rumford Falls downstream to Livermore Falls, according to biologist Boucher, harbors an extraordinary smallmouth population, with plenty of fish in excess of 16 inches.
Boat access is poor in this reach, but canoes and other small boats can be launched at sites on the Swift River in Mexico, at the mouth of Harvey's Brook in Dixfield, and at a number of roadside turnouts along routes 2 and 149, and the Dixfield Road between Rumford and Livermore Falls.
The poor boat access above Turner is why that part of the river to Rumford Falls is so sparsely fished, but for Bassmasters with small watercraft, the river's most bountiful trophy smallmouth waters are in this section.
The MDIFW, working with the state legislature, has enacted regulations to ensure that the Androscoggin's incredible bass fishing will remain so for the foreseeable future. During the regular season, April 1 to Sept. 30, the daily creel limit is one bass between 12 and 15 inches long, and only artificial lures may be used on bass. And during the extended season in October and December, all bass and salmonids caught must be released alive at once.
Androscoggin River trip check report
LOCATION The Androscoggin lies in southwestern Maine. Best fishing occurs between Rumford and Brunswick.
WHEN TO GO Prime times are during the spawning season in late May and June and from late September through early October.
BEST LURES & TECHNIQUES During the spawn and at twilight and dawn during summer and early fall, fish topwaters or near-surface lures and flies along the shoreline, edges of flats and shallow cover. In the pre-spawn, in late fall and during midday, fish middepth and deep running flies and lures around offshore structures, particularly in the vicinity of dropoffs.
ACCOMMODATIONS & GUIDES Lakeside Cabins & Motel, P.O. Box 236, Route 202, E. Winthrop, ME 04343, 207-377-6741. Andy Wes, the outfitter, has a stable of topnotch smallmouth river guides on call.
MAPS Maine Publicity Bureau, 97 Winthrop St., Hallowell, ME 04347, 207-623-0363; Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, DeLorme Publishing, P.O. Box 298, Freeport, ME 04032.
INFORMATION I&E Division, Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, 284 State St., Station No. 41, Augusta, ME 04333-0041, 207-287-8000.