Fishing Report

July 22  North of the Valley and the Notch

Area streams are warming up quickly so get out there while the fishing lasts!  If the dry weather continues the stream fishing season could be over very soon.  We hiked up above the Mt. Washington Valley early this week and were treated to low water but the temps were still around 60 degrees in areas that had shade.  Wild trout were active and although small (5-7 inches) they were colorful and feisty.  Small, size 20, emergers and caddis both produced.  As usual these fish will hit just abut anything.  We fished Tenkara style for most of the trip and the clients were impressed with its’ simplicity.  On the drive back south we stopped at several larger rivers to chase stocked fish.  We got into a few rainbows and brook trout that took Madame X and stimulator patterns.

Later in the week we headed up the Route 93 corridor and found fish along the Kanc and above the Notch.  Nothing big but the action was fairly consistent.  Did run into a few fishermen including a husband and wife who were worm dunking and had their limits of trout and stated that the they had fished for the last week with limit catches each day.  They said it was getting tougher and taking longer to fill the stringer and then blamed it on the weather……..nothing wrong with keeping a few stocked fish but if you want fish later in the season you need to limit your take.  There is something to be said for the practices of catch and release as well as delayed harvest.

Trout fishing in the lakes region has slowed at the popular roadside spots.  If you want success grab a topo map and follow a thin blue line.

August 3rd  Where is the Water?

The water levels dropped quick this past week and with low water comes higher temperatures.  I ventured southwest to check out several rivers in the Sunapee, Newport and Sutton area and the results were tough to see.  Several smaller streams had no flow, no flow meaning absolutely no flow.  The Sugar River along the recreation trail in Newport had some water and I’m sure the deeper holes held fish but I checked the riffles out and found 74 degree water at 9 a.m.  Way too warm to ethically fish for trout.  I packed up without wetting a line and headed back to first the Smith River in Bristol and Danbury and then the Pemi River in Bristol.  The Smith, running low, was hitting 68-70 degrees in the fast water but I saw no fish.  The Pemi River along Coolidge Woods road was my final stop and spoke with several anglers who had caught a few bass.  I managed to cast a dozen or so times and added a small mouth and river chub to catch for the day.
The rivers north of the lakes region are starting to feel the effects of the lack of rain.  The Swift River along the Kanc is now a “hop the rocks” fishery.  A pair of shorts and either hiking shoes or wading sandals are all you need.  The lower stretches near Conway have some stocked trout and the stretches above near Lower Falls and the Gorge still have fish in the deeper pools.  The hoppers are out for midday anglers and you can’t beat drifting any terrestrial, including ants, this time of year.  Further north in North Conway the Saco is now strictly a dawn and dusk fishery.  There are hatches and there are fish for those who get there early  or who wait until late.  After 9 am on this river the biggest hatch of the day occurs…kayaks and tubers……..I’ve caught both.
The smaller tribs like the East Branch of the Saco and the Upper Ellis above Dana Place in Jackson will give up some wild brook trout to those willing to hike.  Small and light (2-3 wt) rods fishing small dry patters such as size 18 caddis and stimulators are productive.  Be sure to wet your hands and if you can please release the fish without taking them out of the water.  Also it’s a good idea to fish barbless flies.  For newbies the barbs can easily be pinched down on flies that have barbs and you’ll appreciate how easy it is to release fish.  There also a heck of a lot easier to remove from the errant casts that place them in ears and necks!
Let’s hope the conditions improve with more rain but the extended forecast is not showing that at present.  In the mean time use common sense… early and barbless and get the fish back as soon as possible.

August 15  Drought and Trout End in Perfect Day!

It’s tough to say no but with the summer we are having there is often no alternative.  Thus was the case when I picked up my client last week.  Before we left the parking lot I let him know right up front what the deal was going to be on this day.  He had booked months ago and although this was not the primary reason for his visit to NH he was hopeful that it would be the highlight.  Of course I must preface that he was camping with 2 young daughters and his in-laws so most of his time was spent at Story land and Santa’s Village sandwiched around campfires where the talk was centered around conversations of when he and his wife would finally provide a grandson.  So on this day he was ready and willing to enjoy some time outdoors standing in a stream and forgetting about everything but the task at hand….a day of casting and wading and hopefully catching his first trout on a fly rod. 

I don’t need to tell anyone that the water levels are low.  Let me correct that…the water levels are dangerously low and in some small tributaries, referred to as blue lines, we might have to change the terminology to brown lines.

Couple the drought with the heat and it spells trouble for anything outside. I’m right into the middle of my peak trout guiding season and this past week I cancelled all but one of my trips.  It’s all about ethics. With weather like this you have to put the trout first.

When the temperature gets this high my most important piece of equipment is a stream thermometer. If the streams and rivers measure higher than 68 degrees no line gets wet. I just won’t do it as the chance of reviving a stressed trout is slim at best. Water with that temperature has oxygen content so low that trout don’t stand a fair chance, especially after having just spent minutes battling against the bend of a fly rod. 

Early in the week I headed north of the Conway area where I walked down to check on one of the more popular stretches of rivers. The temperature in the fast water measured 74 degrees at 6 am.  I didn’t even bother to string up a fly rod.  I walked up to a large pool where two anglers stood casting along the outside riffle.  I watched as they caught and released several fish.  One offered to move up into the pool to allow me to fish.  I declined but it did offer the opportunity to discuss the conditions.  His fishing buddy was attempting to revive a fish and was working the fish back and forth in the warm water.  Being an educator I thought I would make this a teachable moment and I placed my stream thermometer into the water.  It measured 75 degrees a foot below the surface.   Curious, one of the anglers asked the results and I said, “Seventy-five degrees, not much dissolved oxygen at that temperature”.  I think he sensed my point as he watched me just stand and not rig up my rod.  He replied, “Yeah but these fish are coming from down deep where the temps are cooler and they don’t seem to be sluggish hitting the flies. They’re fine.  You should feel how cool they are when we release them.”  Well that was my opening to respond, “Trout need to feed and no doubt they are opportunistic, especially in this crystal clear streamThey are coming from cooler water but each fish you’re catching you are attempting to revive in water that is void of enough oxygen for them.  Sure they swim away but the lactic acid they’ve built up and the lack of oxygen spells doom for them.” 

Now, this stretch of river allows for the keeping of two fish and I suggested they would be better off keeping fish rather than trying to play catch and release. The reality is keeping 2 fish ends your day and you have killed what you caught.  By catching and releasing fish in these temperatures you would actually kill more fish.  They listened but then tried to justify their continued fishing by mentioning that these were stocked fish, they only fish for trout one week each year and that they had little impact on the resource.  They also drove the point that if it was that detrimental to the trout then why would the state allow fishing?  Valid point, maybe.   I simply, but directly, told them it was all about ethics and that’s something you can’t legislate.

I left this area and proceeded west to meet with my client, Mike. I discussed the heat and the effects on the trout and then offered to hike into some higher elevation spots in search of cooler water to fish.  I made it clear that if we didn’t find water cooler than the mid 60’s then we would have to reschedule.  A novice to trout fishing he was all ears and was in complete agreement.  We hiked to a smaller tributary stream that ran along the shaded north slope of a ridge and wet waded to the first pool.  I placed the thermometer under the surface to confirm what my legs were telling me about the temperature.  It was a cool and refreshing 61 degrees.  The action started right from the first cast as he drifted a size 12 Madame X through the center of the pool.  Several small trout slapped at the fly and being new to this sport Mike was “slow on the take”.  After several more casts he had his first ever trout, a 6-inch brookie that sported some impressive colors.  I quickly unhooked the fish and it darted back to pool.  After several more fish we hiked higher in elevation and the action was just as consistent.  While he fished we discussed the fishery that we were now a part of.  The talk was more than just about fishing for trout.  It was about why we fly fish for trout, why we spend so much time and effort to tie flies, why we learn entomology, why we learn to perfect a cast and most importantly, why these fish are so special.  Mike was the perfect client, he was very receptive.

One of the highlights of our trip was unknowingly walking up on a resting bear. I suspect he was sleeping in the shade along the bank and had we been quiet we probably would have walked right by him.  He stood, yawned, allowed for a few pictures and then walked downstream. 

We continued up to the next pool where the fish were keyed in on terrestrials with beetle, ant, and hopper patterns the most successful. No fancy casting needed, just get the fly on the moving water and you’d be rewarded.  Although a novice at casting, Mike was a quick learner.  On most days I tell clients “there are no bad casts, only casts of less likely”.  On this day even the “casts of less likely” were productive.  We covered a half mile or so of water and had more than enough action. When the sun finally made its’ way over the ridge the air temperature began to rapidly rise.  Mike looked at me and I didn’t have to say a word as he said, “Let’s head down before it gets too hot.”  We began our descent and walked just around the first bend when I stopped Mike and pointed in the stream.  Our big furry friend had taken residence in a small pool trying to cool off.  We backtracked and circled up into the woods.  No need to stress out this creature, especially in this heat.  We continued downstream to the truck and found a shaded area where we stopped for lunch.  The talk was about the last 4 hours.  As a guide you always want to leave a client with a good feeling so I spoke of his improved casting, his line management skills, and his ability to listen and follow instructions. 

When Mike finally got his chance to reflect on the experience there was talk not only of the scenery, the bear, and the brook trout he caught, but more importantly he spoke of fishing ethics……Now that’s a perfect day.