The lower two-thirds of the Androscoggin River flowing through Maine supports a tremendous smallmouth bass fishery (click here, here, here, here, and here for examples). We’ve come a long way since the 1960’s when this stretch of river was an abused and neglected stinking open sewer, contaminated by untreated papermill effluent and municipal sewage. Following the Androscoggin’s re-birth after the passage of the Clean Water Act in the early 1970’s, Maine’s people have discovered its tremendous recreational potential, turning the river into a regional paddling and angling destination. Residual contaminant levels in fish tissue greatly limits the number of smallmouth bass that are harvested annually. As a result, most recreational anglers practice catch-and-release, myself included, resulting in a robust bronzeback fishery. Keep in mind that this stretch of the river also contains serious northern pike. Although I’m not specifically targeting these fish today, I’ve caught them in the past in this general location as an accidental “bycatch”, which is always fun.
My 11 year-old grandson Giovanni and I arrive at 10:30 am at the clearly-marked boat launch located right off Route 136 in Durham (see The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map map 6 A1). I’ve selected this spot because I know from past experience that it contains an abundant smallmouth bass population eager to grab lures from inexperienced anglers. That’s important to keep the attention of an easily-distracted pre-teen… The launch is spacious and offers plenty of parking. However, beware that the water level can become critically low in the summer, as it is today, which can complicate putting in and retrieving a boat on a trailer from this launch. I’m glad that I brought my hip boots to help with the maneuvers. An alternative would be to use a kayak or canoe which would work fine given the low water current at this time of the year. The sky is overcast and the surface water is a balmy 74ºF. I’m excited to get back on this stretch of the Androscoggin River which I haven’t visited in over five years!
I have fished (but not blogged about) the Androscoggin River downstream of the Durham launch site, up to the large island (Wagg Island). This morning, we motor off and head upstream, in the direction of Lewiston-Auburn. This water is perfect to be fished using a 4” soft stickbait rigged “wacky worm” style because the water column is free of any obstructions, such as aquatic plants or logs, which would otherwise snag this open-hook lure. Our first obligatory stop is by the rocky cliff face, on the opposite shore located perpendicularly upstream from the launch. The whole area in front of that rock face consists of a 15 ft deep hole which typically holds lots of bass in the summer. Today is no exception. I start the proceedings by hooking into a really hefty fish which puts up a spirited fight. Geovanni is all excited, as am I, until the fish unhooks and gets away. Grrr! And we never even saw it. Fortunately, his cousin is waiting down there and falls for my wacky worm. But this fish stays on the hook and gets brought into the boat to be photographed and released. We spend about one hour casting along the shoreline by the cliff and slowly retrieving our wacky worms back towards the boat. We land seven bass during that period and miss several others. Giovanni is all excited!
It’s time to move on. I motor upstream for about 10-15 minutes (well past the high-voltage lines hanging over the river but before the I-95 bridge) to reach a stretch of the Androscoggin River characterized by large boulder fields and shallower water (about 4 ft deep) where I’ve had luck catching bronzebacks in the past. The water level is so low this morning that I probably wouldn’t be able to motor safely further upstream anyway. We spend about two hours in that general area tossing our wacky worms left and right. Giovanni is having a grand time because he’s catching fish even though he’s still learning to properly cast his lure and set the hook. But that’s the beauty of fishing from a boat in the middle of a river full of eager fish. It doesn’t really matter where the lure lands… We catch a total of 13 additional fish and hook but miss many more. None are lunkers, with most fish measuring between 13” and 16”. But what they lack in size they more than make up in fighting spirit.
The results: We caught a combined total of 20 smallmouth bass (largest = 17.5”) in 3 hours of fun fishing.
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