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Maine's Androscoggin River Comeback

Maine's Androscoggin River Comeback

Once a polluted "toxic cocktail," Maine's Androscoggin River now boasts some of the best river trout fishing in the Northeast. Our expert has the story.

By Rod Cochran

As another New England trout season kicks into high gear this month, local anglers are leaking news of some fantastic brown and rainbow trout fishing on Maine's upper Androscoggin River.

They've kept it under their hats for several years, but the news is out. The 34-mile stretch of the Androscoggin from the New Hampshire border to Rumford is the most underrated and underfished trout river in the East.

The river supports large numbers of trout in the 12- to 18-inch class, along with plenty of trophy browns ranging up to 24 inches. Wild rainbows and brookies are a bonus, and on a 10-mile float, one is likely to see no more than a half-dozen anglers.

This is a terrific environmental success story, too. Prior to 1980, after decades of unrestricted industrial and domestic dumping, the Androscoggin had low oxygen levels along with lethal conditions for most aquatic life. But a change began in 1977 with the Clean Water Act and the subsequent construction of wastewater treatment facilities. Bass and pickerel responded to the improved water conditions, and, according to biologist Bill Pierce, in 1986, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife began stocking trout. In the mid-1990s, stocking operations were stepped up to include browns and rainbows when natural reproduction was discovered.

This spring, approximately 1,750 browns and 1,750 rainbows will be released between Gilead and Bethel, and 5,400 browns will be planted from Bethel downstream to Rumford. All of these fish are yearlings from 8 to 10 inches in length.

The Andro, as it's called, once had a distinguished history as a trout and landlocked salmon fishery. The Rangeley Lakes and Umbagog Lake are its headwaters.


Photo by Ron Sinfelt

"Draining some 1,502 square miles in Maine and New Hampshire, the river maintains an average annual flow of 3,700 cubic feet per second at Rumford Falls, with minimum flows generally in excess of 1,600 cfs," Pierce explained.

Easily waded and ideal for canoe floats, the gradient between Gilead and Rumford is 3.9 feet per mile. The river is about equally divided between pools and riffles or runs. Water temperatures and dissolved oxygen values in the restored river are suitable for salmonid management on a year-round basis, Pierce reported.

The Andro's statistics tell only half the story from an angler's viewpoint, however, for in addition to producing trophy-size trout, the river offers a blue ribbon outdoor experience, especially on the water along the White Mountain National Forest from Bethel upstream to Gilead. One can fish all day within view of the famous White Mountain peaks in New Hampshire.

More importantly, the river is easy to fish. There are no dams, no white water and no slippery boulders in the upper stretch. The river bottom is classified as gravel, sand and rubble. Nature has designed the Androscoggin as a trout river for both fish and fishermen.

Today, the Androscoggin is primarily a brown and rainbow fishery, although good numbers of brook trout are also taken. As one fishes upstream toward the New Hampshire border, the likelihood of catching a landlocked salmon increases. Downstream toward Rumford Falls, the smallmouth bass fishing improves dramatically until later in the summer, when the bass fishing below Rumford is superb.

According to Rocky Freda, a Bethel guide, a good bet for brook trout fanatics is to hit some of the tributary streams, especially those cascading down from the White Mountain National Forest. The Wild River, for example, is a rock-ribbed mountain stream that drops precipitously, splashing through pools not much larger than a kitchen sink, before entering the Androscoggin at Gilead. A seasonal road, Route 113, follows the Wild River for nearly four miles, and then continues along Evans Brook all the way to Evans Notch.

The Pleasant River is also recommended for brookies. It has a flatter gradient than the Wild and enters the Androscoggin at West Bethel. It is remote and somewhat difficult to reach. A couple of local roads off Plat Road provide limited access.

Artificial lures are required on the upper Androscoggin, with slightly more than half of the fishermen preferring flies to spinning tackle, according to Bill Murphy, a guide living in Bethel, who grew up on the river.

When spin-fishing, Murphy has one favorite lure. "A silver Mepps with a white bucktail is all it takes to put fish in the canoe," he claims. Flashy spinners and mini-stick baits are also popular on the river. His recommended flies for the Androscoggin include North Country favorites such as the Woolly Bugger, Muddler Minnow and Hornberg, along with traditional Maine streamers such as Mickey Finn and Dark Edson Tiger.

Rocky Freda advises matching the hatch with spring patterns including Hendricksons and caddis (sizes No. 14 and 16), Blue Duns (sizes No. 12 to 18) and stoneflies (sizes No. 10 to 14).

Fishing access on the Androscoggin is easy when compared to some trout streams in the East, even though most of the shoreline is privately owned. Landowners in this part of the country generally allow wading access, and several public access sites for wading and floating are available on the upper river. A newly constructed access site and canoe launch known as Moran's Landing is at Bear River Rips in Newry, and a similarly developed facility can be found at Davis Park in Bethel.

A number of other mainly undeveloped sites have local names: Mead Landing at Gilead, New Cs Landing in West Bethel, Outdoor Adventures in Bethel, the public launch in Hanover and at McDonald's Restaurant in Rumford.

Anglers may also fish the upper Androscoggin from a launch below the Shelbourne Dam in New Hampshire. Local guides have access to a number of additional locations on private land that allow them to make certain floats that they prefer, and some of these are no more than a two-track lane to a muddy shoreline.

The Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce has just published a free map of public access locations on the upper Androscoggin that can be ordered at P.O. Box 1247, Bethel, ME 04217, or call (207) 824-2282. Maps will also be available this season in local sporting goods stores.

While the river is ideally suited for float trips, public launches are limited to canoes, kayaks, inflatables, pontoon boats and the like. There are just too many riffles and no ramps for larger motorized boats.

The main trout season on the upper Androscoggin opens on April 1 and runs through Aug. 15. Minimum length on brown trout, rainbow trout, landlocked salmon and bass is 12 inches, and on brook trout, 8 inches. A slot limit is in effect on trout, and all fish between 16 and 20 inches must be released at once. Daily limits are: two salmon, and one trout - includes rainbows, browns and brookies. Anglers may keep one bass from April 1 through June 20 and three bass from June 21 through Aug. 15, but only one may exceed 14 inches (includes both smallmouths and largemouths). During an extended season from Aug. 16 through Nov. 30, all trout, salmon and bass must be released.

Outdoor recreation is big business in Maine, so it's not surprising that guide services, motels and bed and breakfasts, restaurants, fishing gear outlets, canoe rentals and campgrounds abound around the upper Androscoggin and the White Mountain National Forest. A good source of regional information is the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, address and phone number listed above, or visit their Web site at www.

The "sweet stretch" of the Androscoggin is in Oxford County, as far west as you can get, and about 75 miles north of Portland, via Route 26. As the river enters Maine from New Hampshire, Route 2 winds all the way to Bethel. At Bethel, routes 5 and 26 join Route 2 northward to Newry, where the river turns westerly toward Rumford, with routes 2 and 5 tracking the valley. Seldom does a road system provide such easy and immediate access to a trout stream, and rarer yet does such a river with wall-hanger fish attract so few fishermen.

But that's about to change!

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