Group launches promotion for upper Androscoggin River

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BETHEL – A group of Bethel area businesses, Maine guides, anglers and a Farmington outfitter have joined forces to promote and enhance the fishing resource on the Upper Androscoggin River between Rumford Point and the New Hampshire border.

Officially formed last month, the Upper Andro Angler Alliance has operated incognito for the past three to four years under the auspices of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, spokeswoman Wende Gray said by phone Thursday afternoon in Bethel.

“The chamber has done wonderful things for us, and was the catalyst to get this going,” Maine Guide Rocky Freda also said by phone Thursday afternoon at his Bethel business, Sun Valley Sports and Guide Service.

“We’re looking to the Androscoggin River as an economic development engine for the area, but we’ve outgrown the chamber’s ability to fund us,” Gray said.

After environmental cleanup by federal, state and local organizations, the Androscoggin, which was once one of the nation’s most polluted rivers, is now an emerging fishing destination.

“If you look at the entomology of the river itself, the insect life in the river tells the story of how well it’s coming back. I think it’s time something like this got going,” Freda said of the alliance.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is heavily stocking the river. Since 2000, nearly 30,000 brown trout have been dumped in, along with more than 4,000 rainbow trout to supplement recovering wild rainbow stocks.

There’s even some brook trout in the mix, filtering in from the Wild, Pleasant, Sunday and Bear rivers, and smaller brooks, Gray said.

“It’s amazing that it’s all pretty much undiscovered right now. I had some folks from Florida last year that I took out fly fishing for the day. Well, when they got back, one guy called his buddy in Alaska, and said he spent the whole day on the river and never saw another person. He likened it to undiscovered Alaska,” Freda said.

Freda said alliance members are meeting this month with Maine and New Hampshire legislators to work out a reciprocal licensing agreement allowing anglers with fishing licenses in one state to legally fish the Androscoggin in the other state between the Gilead bridge and New Hampshire’s Shelburne Dam.

“Maine’s pretty much in favor of it, but New Hampshire’s balking a little bit,” Gray said.

The alliance is also trying to create more public access to the river. Freda said there is a public hearing at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20, in Gilead, regarding the alliance’s proposed public boat launch. The privately-owned launch site in Gilead now is available for use by the public, but its steepness makes it difficult to launch boats, particularly for older people.

The group is also casting lures across the nation, booking promotional spots at sportmen’s shows and fly fishing festivals in other states, mailing brochures, and pushing the Androscoggin experience to the world through the alliance’s Web site.

“I think we’ll do well. We’ve got some good partnerships, and that’s what it’s all about,” Gray said.

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