Quite a catch

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With warm weather fast approaching, the Androscoggin River is the perfect place to bag some bass.

As June rolls around, most anglers start to switch their gear from salmon and trout equipment to bass tackle, in anticipation of warm water and spawning season.

Whether you are after a spirited smallmouth or a lunker largemouth, now is the time to get out the spinner baits, tube jigs and assorted bass angling ephemera. The Lewiston/Auburn area has a plethora of top-notch bass waters located within in its boundaries, so it’s just a matter of choosing one or two and making a day of it.

The Androscoggin River is rapidly becoming a top bass-producing water. Thanks to cleanup efforts by the state’s environmental agencies, private paper companies, Central Maine Power Co. and a host of volunteers, water quality on the mighty Androscoggin is improving each year.

While it is nowhere near as clean as it was before the damaging side effects of industrialism took their toll at the turn of the century, the clarity and oxygen levels of the river are increasing.

According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) fisheries biologist John Bowland, the Androscoggin “…remains sort of a hidden treasure right in the midst of Lewiston-Auburn.”

With catches of smallmouth bass weighing 3 and 4 pounds being quite common on the river, it’s no doubt that anglers are flocking to the river.

Access to the river has also increased in the past few years. Most notably, the construction by MDIFW of a boat launch in Durham, at the Durham-Auburn line on Route 136, has allowed anglers to fish the rocky portion of the river south of the Great Falls in Auburn. This stretch of the river is a virtual field of rocks providing cover and spawning areas to smallmouths. Anglers working upstream towards Lewiston-Auburn will run into sections of the river that are too shallow to navigate, while anglers floating south towards Lisbon will find deeper water and slower pools.

He’ll be dammed

Ken Irish, of Turner, haunts the area below Gulf Island hydroelectric dam in Lewiston. Situated on a scenic drive off Switzerland Road in Lewiston, the dam is actually in a rather picturesque setting, considering the fact that it is an industrial power-producing site. With old concrete walls and a multitude of glass windows, the dam looks as if it did when it was built there decades ago. Ken works the rocks below the dam with tube lures, enjoying great success. Irish reports catches of small fish, but after a trip to his favorite spot, I was hooked. These little smallies put up quite a fight because you are battling the strong current, along with the fish. Ken boasts catches of 20 or more fish per outing with fish ranging in size from 16- to 21-inches, weighing upwards to 4 pounds.

Anglers fishing the Androscoggin use a great variety of lures with equal success.

Traditionalists prefer spinners or top-water lures such as the Mepps variety and the Jitterbug while other anglers are using the softbaits seen more commonly in the South. Worms rigged Texas-style, large, gaudy spinnerbaits and even pork-rind jigs are cropping up on the river in increasing numbers. Much of this is due to the television coverage of national tournaments, along with television shows dedicated to bass anglers. Many local anglers are tuning in to these shows and discovering new lure and bait combinations which work on Maine smallmouths.

Fly-fishing anglers are also discovering the thrill a heavy-shouldered bronzeback can provide on a light rod, as their numbers are increasing on the river as well. Quite a few years ago, while gazing at the falls in Auburn, I watched one fly-fisherman catch several nice smallmouth in the 1- and 2-pound range while fishing under the Longley Bridge. The graceful arc of his flyline contrasted heavily with the sharp lines of the city, but the angler was oblivious to his surroundings and seemed content to concentrate on the fishing, not the backdrop.

Popular fly patterns for the Androscoggin include the grey ghost and black-nosed dace as baitfish imitations, while crayfish patterns work well to copy one of the rivers best forage species for bass. Fly-fishing anglers working the still waters should also carry along a few poppers for some top-water excitement.

One die-hard bass fanatic is Phil Hebert, of Westbrook. Hebert travels all over the state chasing bronzebacks for fun and competition. We struck up a conversation about angling and got to the topic of Lake Auburn. Phil, like many southern Maine anglers, knew little about one of the best bass lakes in the region. I filled him in on the hotspots and structure of the lake. It was clear from his interest that he planned on visiting Lake Auburn. While early spring anglers flock to Lake Auburn, June fishermen usually have the lake all but to themselves. With the prized salmon and togue down deep and the smelt run over, most anglers quit fishing this local lake until early fall. Bass anglers know differently. As the spawning season begins, the lake’s abundant bronzebacks are in close to shore constructing beds to lay their eggs on.

Anyone who trolls the shoreline of Lake Auburn has undoubtedly seen a strange phenomenon. Around mid-June, you can easily spot the circular bass nests fanned into the sandy bottom along the shoreline near Taber’s Driving range. Anglers fishing by these nests are usually rewarded with a sharp tug of the line and a lengthy battle with the male bass who guards the nest. These nests however, typically sport several large, white orbs. No, these aren’t bass eggs; they are golf balls deposited in the lake by errant hackers. If you have a neophyte in the boat, perhaps you can fool him or her into believing they actually are bass eggs!

Casting anglers do rather well on Lake Auburn by motoring up to the shoreline and casting a lure (crayfish imitations are popular on Lake Auburn) toward shore. By working the shoreline and covering one section at a time, a 20 fish-per-day count is not uncommon. To ensure nesting success, bass caught from a spawning bed should be released near where they were caught.

Shoreline anglers can have a blast with spawning bass, but boating anglers can certainly cover more water. Access to the lake is limited to the new launch located on Route 4 in East Auburn. Anglers have quite a few spots to choose for bass this month, but you can’t go wrong wetting a line in the mighty Androscoggin or big Lake Auburn.

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