The Androscoggin River, from Gilead south, slides, rushes and tumbles between rugged, rolling hills that smile evenly at the sun, and in places, bare, gray, granite ledges rise above a sea of hardwood foliage.

As the river nears Bethel, and certainly south of there, stretches look more pastoral than wild, and why not?

From the New Hampshire border to Merrymeeting Bay, roads parallel the Androscoggin on both sides for much of its length, and farms thrive in the river valley, often hidden behind walls of trees along the banks.

While drifting the river, floaters may not see development for miles, particularly between the New Hampshire border and Bethel, so it looks pretty much as it did centuries ago, a float through another time.

Twice each year, I try to drift this river with William Clunie, a retired guide from Dixfield.

In spring, the Gilead to Bethel stretch draws me for its salmonids, a smorgasbord that may include brown trout, rainbow trout, landlocked salmon and brook trout, the latter at the mouths of tributaries.

The last time I did the Gilead section, a 16-inch landlock came to hand, surprising me. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife had stocked salmon that year.

The Mexico section has salmon this season.

Later in summer, when waters warm, smallmouth bass from Dixfield south interest me.

The bass average 15 inches, and 18-inch and larger fish are possible on any cast, adding a fifth, exciting species to the smorgasbord.

Smallmouths accounted for a majority of Clunie’s guiding business, and recently, he told me a fascinating tidbit. When bass clients fished around Mexico, they often tangled with rainbows. Apparently, few anglers target this species there, where he still catches ‘bows and wants me to join him.

Clunie has guided such luminaries as Richard Carlson, a nationally acclaimed journalist and U.S. ambassador in several countries.

Carlson also has a well known son, TV personality and journalist Tucker Carlson.

Clunie has also guided the inimitable Lefty Kreh, perhaps the world’s best known fly rodder. In the 1960s, Kreh became famous when he helped open up Costa Rica’s east coast fishery for giant tarpon.

I’ve fished on Costa Rica’s east coast, one of the world’s great fly-fishing destinations, and it’s nothing to hook into 100-pound-plus tarpon with a 12-weight fly rod.

Kreh has fished worldwide and considers Maine’s Androscoggin, for smallmouths, one of his three favorite fishing stops. Clunie must have done his job getting the old master over fish.

Floating with Clunie for bass provides fly rodders and hardware casters great fun, because as the rubber raft drifts along, the key to success requires dropping the fly or lure tight to the bank, often around fallen trees or dri-ki.

Accurate, quick casting brings out the best in an angler, and a feisty, high-jumping species rewards a successful caster.

One small tip in this fishing: Clunie casts toward shore at a 45-degree angle ahead of the raft and lands the fly as close to the bank as possible. This 45-degree rule allows the angler to better retrieve the lure after the cast.

Clunie’s rubber raft has a rowing device attached on top and also cushioned, swivel chairs that look as if they came from a bass boat. The chairs offer comfort to casters as they enjoy the fishing and stunning scenery.

As readers can tell, I have plenty of positive comments about the Androscoggin River fishing experience, particularly when floating the river.

Which brings up a quick point.

A few weeks ago, a letter to the editor accused me of disdaining drift boats, flabbergasting me. I never said or intimated that I dislike boats for drifting rivers. I take float trips whenever I can.

I did write that boat launches on the Kennebec River were not a high priority with state officials, a fact.

If it were a high priority, there would be adequate boat launches for boats and trailers dotting the Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers.

Once with Clunie on the Androscoggin, I bruised my palm dragging his raft up a boat-launch bank. When someone bruises a palm, he or she is doing some gut-busting pulling.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]


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