Skunked again: Fishing the Sandy in Strong

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This week I returned to a close-by trout fishing spot in Strong, Maine (DeLorme M19, B-5). The bridge that crosses the Sandy River on route 145, just as it splits from route 4, has some opportunistic waters for one to toss a fly or use the spin-cast.

It was the 4th of August, and I decided to take advantage of an otherwise uneventful evening by making the fifteen minute drive to do some fly-fishing. When I finally decided to leave my small apartment in Farmington, I realized that I would be forced to deal with a weather pattern that could not make up its mind. I left in a downpour but reached Strong with my windshield wipers off. The clouds hovered menacingly above, representing every shade of grey.

The bridge that spans the Sandy River, in Strong.

Just before Route 145 crosses the river, there is a right-hand turn that brings you down into a gravel parking lot. On the river’s side of the parking lot you can find several paths leading to different sections of the river’s edge. After I rigged up and walked down one of these trails, I noticed how high the water was. The tumultuous rain pouring incessantly over Maine recently did not help the fishing conditions, nor did the high sediment load that made its way down from the upstream erosion. I had to hope my fly would be visible enough in the water.

The Sandy River has some screwy laws about live-bait, but it would seem that in this section of the river in Strong, one can legally use worms and whatnot until October. Upstream, above Phillips, one cannot use live-bait at all! Many people still don’t know parts of the Sandy pertains to this rule (S-6 in the law book), and they put themselves at risk my throwing in a worm. I have come across fellow anglers along the shore and warned them about the rules applying to the bobber and worm they tossed 10 feet from my fly. Most of these conversations get counter-productive as the other (in my experience at least) tends to get riled up about his “God-given right to fish the Sandy with a worm.” I remember one time feeling like the bad guy and responding to a guy “Bub, I don’t care what you try to catch your fish with; I am just letting you know for your own good!” I have recently grown accustomed to holding my tongue. More money for the state, I guess.

I was currently fly-fishing for trout, not knowing if I’d pull in a brown or a brookie. There were no hatches to be seen (most have come and gone), so I figured I’d put most of my effort into streamers. However, my first strategy brought me staggering through the stronger-than-usual current until I was a third of the way across the river, where I whipped a dry-fly towards the edge of some quick water close to the other side. I had to see if I could get something to rise. I usually make up some conspiracy as an excuse to try a dry-fly. This time I figured since there were no evident hatches, the trout wouldn’t be so picky towards what they saw floating by, twitching along at the surface.

Regardless, my fly didn’t tempt any trout. I fished this same spot twice in early June, but I was unable to match the hatch that was gobbled up by the hungry trout around me. I must have looked like a fool casting towards each rise that rippled in every direction of my body, as close to six feet away! This time it was the opposite: streamer conditions. I moved a bit upstream and tied on a grey-ghost to gain that smelt-like appearance. I sent my line back and forth in the air until I had enough line to get to the opposite side of the quick water. As I cast my Cabelas Sweet-Water rod forward, with the rod-point dropping low, I let go of the slack line in my left hand and my streamer soared to the far side of the current. As the current caught my fly-line and brought it downstream, my streamer followed at the end of the leader, doing its best to look like a minnow. I retrieved it in short pulls with my left hand as it arced slowly through the current. Nothing struck. I worked in this manner for a while, changing streamers occasionally. At one point I figured the Mickey Finn would show up better in the Hefeweizen-like water with all of the deposits floating by, so I tied it on and gave it a try. However, as I covered more and more ground and eventually made it up and underneath the bridge itself, I was still unable to hook on to anything. Even with the trustworthy Mickey Finn.

Unfortunately, I would find no desperate or starving trout to take one of my soggy streamers. Even down-stream where the river takes a leisurely right-hand bend I couldn’t come up with a fish. Oh well, I hit the river with less-than desirable conditions during a part of the season when the fish aren’t in a feeding frenzy (like they were in May and June when all of the hatches took place). How’s that for excuses?

Skunked again. This was the third trip where I walked up that bank to my car in defeat. To my surprise, this time when I got to the top I found myself smack-dab in the middle of a cub-scout fla-retirement ceremony. As I squeaked up the hill in my rubbers, a man near the process of lowering the flag in to the flames inquired “Where’s all the fish?”

“Ba, I let ’em all go!” I replied with a twist of sarcasm and a smirk.

It had only rained hard once during the two and a half hours I was on the river, but at the time I was conveniently located underneath the bridge’s giant steel frame. It made me realize how silly of a thing it is to be shy of a little rain when you are up to the chest in the stuff.

The Sandy River is an excellent place for all your fly-fishing needs and proves year-to-year that it can remain a great habitat for our beloved cold-water fish. If you get the time, do one better than me and actually catch one of them! And tell me what you used. Happy Fishin’

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