Androscoggin River

Androscoggin River

A smallmouth mecca in Maine

  • By: Paul Guernsey
There's an old saying--probably several, in fact--having to do with the fact that people often overlook many of the good things they have close at hand. And never is this bit of popular wisdom truer than when you're talking about Maine fly fishermen and their regard, or lack thereof, for the smallmouth bass.

Most of us up here focus our attention on trout and landlocked salmon, and when we do get excited about bass, it's usually the striped variety we're thinking about. Yet the southern two-thirds of our state contains a lot more great bass water, both still- and flowing, than it does Grade A salmonid habitat. In fact, some of our smallmouth rivers are so good that they attract bass aficionados from far out into the "flatlands," as some old-time Mainers still inexplicably refer to anyplace that isn't Maine.

For just one example, fishing guide and television personality Rick Ruoff, who lives and fishes in that huge "flatland" known as Montana, regularly makes trips here specifically to get in on our bass action. Rick told me recently that he thinks Maine has the best smallmouth fishing of any state in the Union.

Lately I've been spending more time fishing for Maine smallies myself--and not just with my kids, either. Last June, for instance, Tim Moody and I took a fairly long drive to fish Maine's Androscoggin River with guide Albert Lane of Androscoggin Guide Service.

The Androscoggin is one of the state's top two smallmouth rivers--the other being the Penobscot (and, yes, it's the same Penobscot that is home to one of America's last few Atlantic salmon runs). Another highly popular and productive Maine smallmouth area is in the vicinity of Grand Lake Stream in the eastern part of the state.

In recent years there has been a fair amount of excitement about the Andro, and I've also seen some impressive slide presentations on the river at some of The Fly Fishing Shows. Despite the river's popularity, however, Albert, Tim and I did not see a single other angler on the stretch of the Androscoggin near Canton where we floated that day. And this, I have to say, is one of the main advantages that smallmouth fishing has over trout angling: Even at the height of the season, it doesn't normally draw the huge crowds that you get on a good trout river, especially when a decent hatch is anticipated.

In any case, it was a beautiful, warm, late-spring day when we slid Albert's john boat into the river at the back of a local cornfield and began our leisurely float. Albert's been on the river a long time--17 years, by his count--and he pretty much took us to every pocket where a good fish might be lying.

We were fishing deerhair poppers most of the time, which is a delightful and highly visual way to conduct the smallmouth business. The fish had just finished spawning but had not yet taken up their summer positions in deeper water, so we pounded the banks with our big, flashy flies and in some spots we nailed fish after fish. Most of the larger fish seemed to be hanging near rocks or in back eddies, and we caught a couple that weighed close to four pounds.

After we'd fished poppers for a while, we decided to hit the deeper pools with streamers. Tim and I used some Clouser Minnows we'd brought along, and we also fished some of the very interesting looking streamers that Albert and his wife had tied. The Lanes had only recently begun to tie flies for Albert's clients, and it was clear from the results that they enjoyed a great deal of creative freedom at the tying table. And that was fine: These were smallmouth we were fishing for, and smallies seem to appreciate carefree, colorful innovation much more than do the snooty brown trout I find myself fishing for so much of the time. In other words, they ate Albert and Mrs. Lane's feathered experiments just as readily as they did Tim's and my professionally (Southeast Asian rather than Down-Eastern) tied offerings.

Smallmouth fishing is almost always a happy-go-lucky time, and when one of us happened to miss a fish, even a big one, it was no big deal. We just shrugged it off and slapped that fly out there in search of another one. No beating ourselves up the way a trout angler does after he reacts too quickly--or too slowly--thereby snatching defeat from the jaws of a striking brown or rainbow.

The Androscoggin also boasts some stretches on both sides of the Maine-New Hampshire border that offer decent trout fishing. Albert takes his clients fishing for either trout or bass; in fact, he's been known to provide both experiences to clients on the same day.