The leaves are already changing at higher elevations and it feels as if fall is officially here. This is good news for trout fishing. Water temps have been ideal and we have been taking fish on dry flies, nymphs, and streamers from sun up to sun down. I have had a few full-day trips on the Androscoggin recently and we have caught a wide variety of nice fish.
Last Monday I guided Ralph Cooper, his son Evan, and Evan's Girlfriend Emily. It was Emily's first day fly fishing, but it was hard to tell by her fish count. She landed: Brook, Brown, and Rainbow trout. Her best fish, a 13" brown is pictured below. Evan also did well landing a few nice browns and a spunky wild brook trout that pulled drag and had me running up and down the river with the net. Of course Ralph caught plenty of fish as well, most of his being brook trout.
On Wednesday I guided long time Client Michael Chalsen and his sons Daniel and Johnathan. I always enjoy guiding this group as the boys have an annual competition to see who can catch the most fish. With two inches of rain in the forecast this was going to be an interesting match. This year Jonathan got on the board first with a nice brook trout, then Daniel quickly followed suit with one of his own. Daniel had figured out an effective slow retrieve with the nymph and hooked four more fish in a row, but lost all of them. I told him that he probably wanted to catch the fish too badly and was horsing them in. He agreed and in the meantime Jonathan caught another fish to pull ahead. Finally, Daniel landed another and the score was tied two- two. As the rain increased we decided to take a lunch break. We were able to escape the rain at Moose Brook State park where we warmed up in the office with hot coffee and plenty of food. After lunch we decided to try a smaller stream. Jonathan was able to land two trout right away so I decided to move the group to a larger pool where I gave Daniel first shot at the best water. I tied on a nymph rig with a large stonefly and a smaller birds nest dropper and pointed out a bubble line where the fish would be feeding in the increasing flow. On Daniel's first cast the flies drifted through the pool untouched and then, as the flies began to swing there was the flash of a fish, but no connection. On the next cast Daniel's indicator shot down and he set the hook hard...too hard, as a 14" trout shot out of the water and was gone. With a few rumbles of thunder, the competition was over. Jonathan had won by two fish. I could see Daniel plotting revenge for next year. In fact I think the group might be back this fall.
On Thursday I had Matt Donovan from Georgia. Matt is working his way around the country fly fishing every State. I had Matt scheduled for a full day drift trip. Unfortunately, both the Saco and Lower Andro were too swollen for any reasonable chance at success. Luckily the upper Andro was at average flow so we headed further north to wade fish. The fishing started slow and we soon switched from two dries to two nymphs. The fish were taking lite bites and we missed a few before Matt set the hook into something solid. It was a chubby rainbow that danced in the air and swam a few circles around us before finally ending up in the net. We fished on without many more fish and decided to move further north to the Fly Fishing only Section in Errol. As we pulled up to the long glide below Indian Bay I said, "We sometimes see fish rising right here." As if on cue a nice salmon slashed the water. " Sometimes or always?" Matt joked. "Well usually" I replied. We made our way slowly towards the rising fish but despite our stealth he seemed to know we were there and did not rise again. We moved downstream to some faster water where I hoped the fish would be a bit less weary. We soon spotted a few nice fish rising in a seam. Matt laid out my purple haze/ black caddis combo and got a quick refusal rise. On the next cast the fish took but the fly popped lose on the hook set. Finally the flies landed and a fish struck, A vibrant 10 inch salmon was brought to net. Matt then hooked another bigger fish that shook the hook loose right before the net. We moved further downstream where I pointed out a piece of calm water within a raging rapid. Matt made a few good casts with the dry fly and as I was wondering where the fish was he struck. A twelve inch salmon danced in the air and Matt fought the fish well, getting her into the net. We then switched to a nymph rig and took another nice rainbow trout from the same run. To end the day we moved back upstream to cast to the first fish we saw rising. Although the fish was there Matt looked at the clock and decided to quit. He had a trip scheduled in Manchester Vermont early the next morning.
It was probably good that I headed home as well, as I had a Friday trip set for 6am. I met Uppy Spencer of Anchorage Alaska at the shop. With the lower andro dropping fast I decided it was worth a shot. We started at a wide stretch of river where I hoped the fish would be turned on to dry flies. When we first arrived we saw no rises so we began by crawling some nymphs along the bottom. Uppy was soon tight to a nice brook trout that shook loose just before the net. Then the fish did begin to rise. They were eating pulsating caddis that are nearly impossible to mimic without battery powered flies. We were able to get a few strikes but I had other water in mind at this point. We moved on to another glide where I knew we could also fish some good riffled water. There were some fish showing in the glide. They required a long distance cast. Uppy had the skills required but setting the hook at that distance was more than challenging and we missed the first few fish to strike. As I looked to the shoreline I could see six inches of wet on the rocks. With the water dropping that fast I had confidence that the riffle would fish well. We switched to a stonefly nymph and made our way downstream. I showed Uppy where he could cast to the shoreline and let the fly swing. On his first cast the fly landed a foot shy of the shore and began to track across the river. Then it stopped, Uppy raised the rod and there was nothing, "I definitely had something there." he said. "Well try that again." The next cast landed a bit further down and tight to the bank. The fly moved across and as the line straightened it came tight. I watched the rod rise, then bend, then throb. This was a large trout. My heart raced as I saw the flashing of a wild rainbow. The fish seemed to be moving in figure eights making every attempt possible to throw the hook. But having fought many large fish in Alaska Uppy stayed calm. Finally after a few more runs the fish came close enough for the net. I managed to slide the net under as Uppy lowered the fish downstream and a bright, arm long rainbow, lay in the net.
Since the big rainbow I've guided two more trips on the Andro. Both times I've warned my clients that they might hook into something of unusual power. On Monday's Trip my Client Mark said that he was a steelhead fisherman. I explained that the Androscoggin wild rainbows fight just like steelhead. Later that day I placed Mark into a spot where I thought one of these fish might lie. I talked him through a few techniques and then told him to work his way across the riffle while I moved back upstream to help his son Daniel. A little while later Mark arrived on the bank above us, his jaw was down. "How big do the fish in here get?" he asked, with a tone of excited confusion. Over twenty inches I replied. Mark nodded his head, convinced. "I just hooked something huge, the fish hit and it was on my drag. It took fifty yards of line and never stopped then my hook popped free...it never stopped." He kept repeating this last phrase throughout the rest of the day. I knew how he felt, he hooked and lost a mermaid.
Last night I guided Kevin Guthrie from Washington State. The fishing started slow and I could tell Kevin was wondering where the fish were. Then we saw a nice brown begin to rise. We hooked and landed the fish on a size 20 black caddis and then the river went silent again so we moved on. We stopped at a hole that I knew had the potential for big fish. I told this to Kevin to prep his focus. We started with dries and missed a few strikes. But when we threw out a double nymph rig his indicator shot down immediately. I knew it was a big rainbow by the way the line zigged and zagged without moving to the surface. Suddenly the line stopped and I knew we were in trouble. Kevin lifted the rod but there was no give. Then the line came loose, the bottom fly lodged in a stick. The fish had worked himself free. Kevin asked, "What could I have done?" I gave my best explanation. "The key to fish like that is to keep them moving, imagine that they are a kite that you are flying, you need to keep that kite (fish) against the wind (current) and if you let up the fish will find a way free." Of course this is the simple, logical explanation. The truth is that, even when fought correctly a big fish has a 50% chance of getting free. It was getting later in the day and I knew we would have at least one more shot. As the sun began to drop we set up at the top of a long glide where big fish typically move just before dark. In the last of daylight we could see a smorgasbord of bugs coming off the water. I tied on two of the most important, a rusty mayfly spinner and an emerging yellow sally stonefly. Matt hooked a few smaller trout on both flies. I could tell he was wondering where the big fish were, and so was I. As the golden twilight faded to gray I spotted one large stonefly bobbing above us. I quickly changed Matt's fly to a big deer hair Stone-fly pattern and told him to cast it twenty feet and let it swing right below us. He tossed the fly, a distance that seemed too close, and asked, "So just let it swing like this?" As if on cue the water exploded, the reel screamed. The fish jumped like a skipping stone down the river, and was gone.
On the drive home Matt was inquisitive. " I mean what could I have done? I've caught big wild trout in Montana, and Pennsylvania...they didn't fight like these fish. I agreed, the rainbows in the Androscoggin seem to have a genetic pre-disposition for fighting. I guess this is why I like guiding here. I look forward to seeing jaws drop.
Last minute update... I was out last evening and saw the first flying ant swarm of the season. The swarm was light but we did hook a few fish on a size 16 cinnamon ant before dark. These ants present the best opportunity to land a large trout on a small dry fly. Now is the time to get out and fish!