Hire a guide to find those deep-woods streams For hooking a dream catch of the day, the region's waters offer prime locales
PITTSBURG, N.H. -- It begins with a few rivulets draining the highlands along the Canadian border, then grows to a murmuring stream that blinks through the sun-dappled forest above Beecher Falls, Vt., before widening and deepening into the farmland as it becomes New England's longest river: the 400-mile Connecticut.
Anglers will argue over the best spot for fishing on the Connecticut, which serves as the border between New Hampshire and Vermont, then bisects Massachusetts and Connecticut to meet Long Island Sound at Old Saybrook, Conn. But the river's origin in this northern corner of New Hampshire has something for every fisherman, even providing, as a friend jokes, the perfect setting for a ''mixed doubles" version of the sport. Just below the dam at the outlet of Second Connecticut Lake where the stream tumbles noisily over the rocky riffles, my friend and his wife fish their separate holes and eddies and, unlike while playing tennis or skiing, cannot be heard above the roar and so wave amicably and keep on fishing.
For countryside that is relatively easy to reach, and that is well cared for by the state (good roads and boat landings in well-kept parkland), the Connecticut Lakes region, if not classically remote wilderness, is certainly far less traveled than the White Mountain Forest country 50 miles south.
Anglers -- and all other outdoors lovers -- can follow the river up Interstate 91 before swinging northeast on Route 3 for a roller-coaster ride through green hill country. From the Pittsburg-Clarksville Bridge north for 15 miles to Third Connecticut Lake near the Quebec border, there is all manner of fishing.
Flat-water types with car-top boats and canoes have a necklace of five lakes strung along the river, while anglers who like wading and looking for trout holes along the stream have the Connecticut and its network of tributaries, some no wider than a brook, and most containing wild fish.
For those who really want to catch fish -- as opposed to those content to roam the back-country practicing the roll cast and getting their caddis flies wet -- hiring a guide is recommended.
Corresponding to New Hampshire's lake country is Vermont's own northern corner known as the Northeast Kingdom, an idyllic land of farms, forest, and some of the best trout and salmon water in New England. Like northern New Hampshire, the Northeast Kingdom is relatively sparsely populated, the rolling landscape as spacious as it is beautiful.
The water system from Lake Memphremagog down the Willoughby River to Lake Willoughby (about 50 miles in all) is the heart of the fishing grounds in the Northeast Kingdom, and the character changes from area to area. The northern extreme is Memphremagog, a 30-mile-long lake, most of which stretches beyond the Canadian border and is worth the boat ride, fishing or not. Charters are available out of Newport, on the south shore of the lake.
The fishing itself includes a wide mix of wild and stocked trout, landlocked salmon, and in the shallows, all manner of warm water species that appear later in spring. The town has plenty of motel lodging, if not much choice of upscale hotels, but then fishing is fishing and rarely are five-star accommodations an issue.
For ease of access, Lake Willoughby is as easy as Memphremagog. Highways 105 and 5A make the drive south past rolling dairy farms and, as you rise toward the lake, meadows and forest land. The lake area may be the most visually arresting in New England -- not the lake itself but the two soaring cliffs, Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor, that loom straight up on both sides, creating a kind of inland fiord.
One shore is dotted with cottages and a country store that sells coffee early. At the end is a boat livery, but most anglers launch their own boats from the public launch ramps along the east and south shores. The fishing is almost all trolling in deep water, and as with any fishing, the season, water temperature, runoff, and other conditions determine just where and how to make an approach.
The best strategy, wherever one fishes, is to find the locals and simply pick their brains for pertinent details. Launch ramps are a good place for this, as are local bait shops. Observing where others are fishing is another way to begin.
More challenging, nuanced fishing is found along the Willoughby River and various feeder streams that trickle out of the woods. The river demands some hiking to fish it adequately, and most fly-fishermen keep moving as they wade the stream looking for eddies and pools that hold the mostly brown, brook, and rainbow trout there. Near the Memphremagog end of the river, landlocked salmon often come out of the lake, and these are both large (to 12 pounds) and feisty. Anglers fishing the river for the first time should consider hiring a guide and certainly prepare with good topographical maps, as they would for any wilderness hiking.
Based largely on the history of fly-fishing in this part of the country, Vermont's Battenkill River is perhaps the best-known trout stream in the Northeast. The famous Orvis outfitters and fly-fishing school in Manchester is along the Battenkill for a reason. In the 1800s, Charles Orvis discovered what colonial farmers always knew: For 20 miles to the New York border, this river is a first-rate brown and brook trout fishery.
As the Orvis company grew, it sold its wares to wealthy New York sportsmen who took the train to the end of the line in southern Vermont, and the company became something of the authority on fly-fishing. Unskilled anglers are often humbled by this river, which is changeable and challenging, with tricky currents in its deep flow. Hence, Orvis starts beginners casting into a pool outside the store.
Despite the cold weather, hatches of Hendrickson mayflies have occurred several afternoons and the good-sized browns have risen to them. Those who know the river best are able to find the eddies behind the huge boulders very close to shore.
Below Manchester, this west-flowing stream, which eventually empties into the Hudson, pools deeply with those secret eddies that can double back beneath deeply undercut banks -- the perfect habitat for wild trout. But wise, wild trout are sometimes hard to impress, and they can grow to over five pounds. Anglers must wade cautiously here, choose flies accurately, and present them perfectly.
Being New England's largest state,Maine has several regions that offer spectacular fishing. There are actually two Maines, the coast whose highway Route 1 will resemble a parking lot for the next three months, and the vast inland reaches to the west. From the Belgrade Lakes near Augusta to the Rangeley Lakes to the west, to the 100-mile Allagash Wilderness Waterway in northern Maine, one could spend years exploring this state's wilderness.
In the center of Maine lies Moosehead, the largest lake contained in any one state east of the Mississippi. Once considered remote from civilization, and known as a sportsman's paradise, Moosehead is now mired in a controversy over a huge proposed land and resort development on its shores and in surrounding wilderness.
The proposal has several levels of the permitting process to go through and is unlikely to pop up any time soon. So for the forseeable future, Moosehead and its surrounding rivers remain one of the most exciting wild fishing grounds in the northeast. As the area is 30 miles long and 20 wide, new anglers often wonder where to begin. The answer is with a guide. Since the field office of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is in Greenville, inquiries begin here.
On the other hand, it's also possible to fish with live bait from the pier at Greenville and hook up with landlocked salmon or lake trout that average 16-18 inches, especially mid-May through June.
Taking the Golden Road (a gravel-packed logging road) northeast out of Greenville and Lily Bay brings you to Ripogenus Dam at the headwaters of the mighty West Branch of the Penobscot River, a roaring white water accessible on both sides by path and dirt road. The dam itself is worth the trip, but anglers who head downstream will find a river of white-water rapids, deep pools, and eddies. Herein lie the biggest trophy landlocked salmon ever recorded, getting about 20 inches long and weighing 5 pounds, best fished through June though the water stays cool later into summer. For a wild river (never mind all the rafting that goes on here), it is remarkably accessible, and canoes are launched easily at Nesowadnehunk Deadwater or any of the campsites in the area. Parts of the river vary in regulations, and anglers should check out the Open Water Fishing Regulations book (available in Greenville) before heading to the Penobscot.
Since the outdoor sports instincts of most Bostonians drive them north, often overlooked is Massachusetts' own excellent fishing in the Berkshires. The best moving water is the Deerfield River that courses out of Vermont, through Florida and Charlemont. Controlled by the flow at Fife Brook Dam, the upper river is catch-and-release fly-fishing only; wild brown and brook trout are among the stocked fish. Several boulder-strewn riffles appear along its length, and the river is easily accessible from River Road that splits off Route 2 (Mohawk Trail) at Greenfield and winds into Vermont at Monroe. Parking is good. Below the Fife Brook section, bait fishing is also allowed, and most natives use nightcrawlers.
To the southeast lies the state's most exciting flatwater, the 40-square-mile Quabbin Reservoir, which provides drinking water for 2 1/2 million people, including Bostonians. It is also home to 27 species of freshwater fish and has the best flatwater fishing in the state, including landlocked salmon, lake trout, and all manner of cold- and warm-water species, with the warm-water fish found in shallower bays and near shore. Every day but Tuesdays and Wednesdays, mid-April to Oct. 15, anglers may rent boats ($30 daily) from one of three state-run liveries, or may bring their own boats (limit 20 horsepower for 2-stroke engines; 25 horsepower for 4-stroke). Several gates from the surrounding roads provide access to the Quabbin, but the three with boat rentals are Gate 8 (Pelham on Route 202), Gate 43 (Hardwick, Route 32A), and Gate 31 (New Salem, Route 122).
Anglers should stop at the MassWildlife Field Headquarters at the Quabbin for copies of the regulations, and keep in mind that squalls descend quickly on this open water, and so boats should be well equipped. While out on the vast expanse of pristine waterway, anglers will likely encounter swimming loons with their haunting cries and bald eagles hunting overhead. For fly specialists, the outlet of Quabbin at Windsor Dam into the top of the Swift River is a chance to hook up with salmon or trout of trophy size, and, in fall, even a run of Atlantics.
The two main approaches to the Quabbin are Route 2 to Route 202 to New Salem at the north end, or the Massachusetts Turnpike to Route 9 at Ware to reach Quabbin Park and the ranger station at the south end. Here, parking is ample and a 12-story observation tower is open during the day, looking out at the boundless reservoir.
Contact Tony Chamberlain at email@example.com.