Rapid River Fly Fishing

The Rapid River: A Touch of Old Maine
I’ve come to realize that flyfishing is about more than just catching fish. Relaxation, adventure and opportunities to meet and spend time with interesting and enjoyable people are just a few of the reasons why more and more people are enjoying this pastime, this avocation, this passion. Flyfishing can provide pleasures that go far beyond a fish pulling on the other end of your line. New Englanders are fortunate to be linked to an area rich in flyfishing heritage.
Nostalgia was not what brought me to Maine’s Rapid River. Like so many before me, I was intrigued that the Rapid is considered by many as the one of the top rivers in New England for catching sizeable wild brook trout and landlocked salmon. And let’s face it, I wanted to catch a big fish. A bit of research brought me to Rapid River Fly Fishing. When I reached the proprietor, Aldro French, he asked me what my interests were and what I hoped to experience. By the end of our conversation, I booked a trip for mid-September. Aldro also recommended a book called We Took To The Woods, by Louise Dickinson Rich, as it was written about this exact area. I awaited my trip to the Rapid River with great anticipation.
My initial destination was the Magalloway River Inn, located a few miles north of Errol, New Hampshire at a wide spot on Route 16 known as Wentworth’s Location, less than a mile from the Maine border. The Inn is a good launching point for people coming to fish the Rapid for the first time. If you are arriving after dark, this a great place to spend the first night and head down to the river in the morning. In fact, the Inn is a wonderful destination in itself. Coming in from points south on Route 16 takes you past long, inviting stretches of the Androscoggin River. The Magalloway itself is around the corner from the inn and the Rangeley Lakes area is just up the road. Another trip for another time.
Magalloway River Inn – Photos By Author Rob Giannino – Fly Fishing New EnglandI met Dick Walthers at the Inn and we drove down to the river together. I learned that Dick serves as the council chairman for the six Maine chapters of Trout Unlimited. His passion for trout conservation, protection and restoration was obvious. He acknowledged with great satisfaction, that the Rapid River is now flyfishing only, with brook trout restricted to catch and
release. From opening day until August 15, the daily bag limit on salmon is one fish. From August 16 to September 30, the salmon are catch and release. There is no size or quantity limits on bass throughout the open season (see sidebar, “Smallmouth in the Rapid”).
Middle Dam – Photos By Author Rob Giannino – Fly Fishing New EnglandOver the past few years, three factors have contributed to the quality fishery the Rapid is today. First, higher minimum flows from Middle Dam have allowed insect life and fish to thrive. Second, the progression towards catch and release has offset the growing number of fishermen on the river from substantially impacting the fish populations. Finally, the elimination of ice fishing in portions of the north basin of Umbagog Lake, where Rapid River brook trout are believed to winter over. This measure was adopted after significant numbers of large brook trout were taken through the ice. As Forrest Bonney, the area’s fish biologist explains, “It didn’t make sense to protect the trout all summer just to have them taken through the ice in the winter.”
One of the intriguing aspects of this river is how difficult it is to get to. From the north you come in through Route 16. From the south you go through Upton. Both sides are gated and require hiking in. From South Arm, you can access the river using a boat or canoe to cross Lower Richardson Lake. Caution should be taken here as this is big water and even minimal wind can
cause difficulty for canoes. I recommend staying at one of the camps along the river. As opposed to a one-day hike in trip, staying on the river for several days affords a deeper appreciation for the river, its surroundings and its history, while putting you a short cast from some truly spectacular fishing.
Forest Lodge – Rapid River Fly Fishing – Photos By Author Rob Giannino – Fly Fishing New EnglandOur journey through the woods to the river took about an hour. Along the way we saw several large deer and some partridge. At the end of the ride was the camp, right on the river. Any closer to the water and I would have to sleep in my waders. The entire property is known as Forest Lodge. The main building, known as Summer House, holds several sleeping rooms, a central gathering den with a large fireplace, kitchen and dining area. In the den, Aldro pointed out the old typewriter on which Louise Dickinson Rich wrote her books, including We Took To The Woods. While I’d known the book was about the area, I didn’t realize it was written in the very same lodge I was staying in. As the light of the day began to disappear, I stared down across the river from the porch of the Winter House, looking upon Lower Dam (as seen in the opening spread). A sense of the area’s history began to blossom, a bud that would only grow as the next few days unfolded.
A Passion of Place Louise Dickinson Rich’s passion for these Maine lands comes through in her eloquent and evocative words of woods and waters. “I like to think of the lakes coming down from the north of us like a giant staircase to the sea,” she wrote. “Kennebago to Rangeley to Cupsuptic, down they drop, level to level, through short, snarling rivers; Mooselookmeguntic to the Richardsons to Pond-in-the-River, and through Rapid River to Umbagog, whence they empty into the Androscoggin and begin the long southeasterly curve back to the ocean. I like to say their names, and wish I could make you see them-long, lovely, lonely stretches of water, shut in by dark hills.”
Fishing On The Rapid River – Photos By Author Rob Giannino – Fly Fishing New England”Snarling” is a perfect depiction of the Rapid. Dropping 185 feet in 3.2 miles, the Rapid River connects Lower Richardson Lake, the lower most Rangeley Lake, to Umbagog Lake in New Hampshire. The river begins at Middle Dam, flows .6 miles to the famous Pond-in-the-River and continues west to Umbagog Lake. As the river turns, winds, drops and falls, some beautiful pools have been created. Long Pool, Cold Spring and Smooth Ledge were just a few of the pools that produced fish. Both Middle and Lower Dams also produced hard-fighting trout and salmon.
Typical patterns Typical northeast hatch patterns are found on the Rapid throughout the season. In the fall, look for big stoneflies hatching in the afternoon. Large stimulators and adult stonefly patterns will provide plenty of dry fly action. The hot fly on this trip was Bob Swanson’s Stonefly, tied by local tier Doug Mawhinney.
Since the home of Carrie Stevens, creator of the famous Gray Ghost, is just up the road a piece, be sure to have plenty of streamers on hand. I enjoy tying on a big, buoyant dry fly like a White Wulff or a Stimulator, adding about 14 of tippet to the bend of the hook and tying on a smelt pattern as a dropper. I use the dry fly as a strike indicator and fish it dead drift. The smelt pattern will zigzag back and forth in the current. This method can beparticularly effective below a hydraulic dam like Middle Dam as the darting streamer looks like a baitfish stunned by the churn of the dam.
Fishing is a medium that connects generations. The Rapid River is unique from the perspective that its wonderful history is equaled by its awesome fishery. Spending time in the Maine woods, hiking and fishing the Rapid, was a refreshing experience. Time spent with Aldro French and learning about the history of Forest Lodge offered me a connection to a special place from a different time. A place and a time I won’t soon forget.
Side Bar
Smallmouth in the Rapid According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, thirteen smallmouth bass were reportedly caught in the lower stretches of the Rapid River in 1998 and 1999. A large population of smallmouth bass were illegally introduced in Umbagog Lake during the 1980s and are undoubtedly coming up the river from there. The concern is if the bass continue to push upriver and abundantly populate the Pond-in-the-River, it will negatively impact the brook trout fishery.
Fishing On The Rapid River – Photos By Author Rob Giannino – Fly Fishing New EnglandPersonally, I love flyfishing for smallmouth. The Connecticut, the Penobscot, the Kennebec and the Farmington Rivers are just a few of the countless fisheries around New England that provide excellent smallmouth fishing. The Rapid River is a special brook trout fishery. It is my hope that the smallmouth do not over populate the river. It seems Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife agrees as they are encouraging anglers to keep all smallmouth caught in the Rapid.