William Clunie of Dixfield, a fishing float-trip operator, guides trout and smallmouth bass anglers on the Androscoggin River, and in summer heat his bass clients outnumber trout casters interested in rainbows, browns and brookies.
I asked Clunie which he prefers guiding — bass or trout anglers — and he said, “I have no preference, but it’s easier to get people onto bass than trout.”
He explained that on some days, bass anglers have blistering fishing all day, but folks may only catch a handful of trout. This bass-action rule has a caveat, though.
“Sometimes it’s easy to catch bass — and sometimes not,” Clunie said, “I try to figure out a plan for consistent success, and one day I think I have the secret, and the next day these Androscoggin River bass won’t bite anything — there’s no rhyme or reason.”
That’s why we call the sport “bass fishing” and not “bass catching.”
According to Clunie, when bass are hungry, they may hit just about anything, but he said, “When they’re not hungry, you gotta get picky with fly or lure choice to enjoy more dependable success.”
On warm days, Clunie said bass attack floating presentations such as deer-hair, fly-rod poppers or spinning poppers, but this August’s unseasonably cool weather has made subsurface offerings produce more consistently for his clients and him.
Along this line of cool versus hot weather, Clunie emphasized that on hot, sunny days, bass like to get into the shallows on the river edge and take surface presentations — the opposite of trout. Experience has taught him that sinking presentations work best for bass in colder weather.
For subsurface fly choices, Clunie likes Wooly Buggers and expressed a penchant for black, chartreuse, root-beer or white Buggers. He ties the white offering with a chenille that shows a somewhat subtle pearl with the white tail, palmering and collar, and the root-beer Bugger has that rich brown for the body and hackle.
At this point, Clunie readily admitted that he disliked telling me the exact fly and lure choices for an article in a newspaper. He thinks, and I humbly agree with him, that if fish see a certain fly or lure too often, it turns them off to that choice, reminding me of a quick digression.
I love a size 20 to 24 CDC Caddis Emerger for trout everywhere, and when nothing is hatching, it’s my first choice when arriving at a water. I was mentioning the fly a lot in publication, and a fly-shop owner selling the pattern once asked me to stop writing about it so much, even though he obviously made money selling it. Like Clunie, he suspected that showing fish in one water a fly too often turns them off.
Not to belabor the issue, but for 10 years, most mornings from late July through Sept. 30, I fished a catch-and-release river over a blue-winged olive hatch that began at 10 a.m. And ended shortly after 12 p.m.
Identifying characteristics on some of the trout proved that I caught the same fish over and over. If a 16-inch brown trout took a classic blue-winged olive dry fly, and the fish had a crescent scar near the dorsal fin and it lay beside a certain rock, I felt certain I could ID the brown the rest of the summer. This experience taught me a valuable lesson.
After the brown hit a classic BWO dry during the 10 a.m. hatch, it wouldn’t rise to that pattern again, forcing me to switch to a BWO Compara-dun, Variant or Thorax design. After catching the same fish on four different BWO patterns, I’d be out of luck for a while with that particular trout. After two weeks, the 16-inch brown might hit the same fly again.
I asked Clunie if he ever used baitfish or aquatic-insect imitations for bass as trout fly fishers do, and he said, “I’m beginning to work on this theory and have been testing an adult dragonfly imitation lately.”
For spin casters after bass, Clunie likes a Mepp’s Spinner as long as it has red in it. He once leaned toward tube lures but said, “I don’t use them anymore, because people are finding the tubes in bass stomachs.”
This movement to prohibit plastic lures that are not biodegradable won’t stop.
Clunie is one of the state’s most storied bass guides and has guided such luminaries as Lefty Kreh, Richard Carlson (Tucker Carlson’s father) and Al Agnew.
After Kreh fished with Clunie, he claimed in a national magazine that the Androscoggin River smallmouth fishery was one of his three favorite fishing holes on the planet. Carlson, an ex-ambassador, is a nationally known figure and Agnew is a noted wildlife painter, which all showed that this good-natured, quiet Dixfield guide is attracting a following.
Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: