Top North Country Trout Rivers
September 30, 2010
For just the right combination of solitude, great fishing and easy access, these highly recommended trout rivers can't be beat.
Early summer can be one of the most productive times of the season for trout fishermen in northern New England. This is particularly true on the larger and medium-sized rivers.
The last couple of summers have been especially difficult for trout in these habitats because of the lack of substantial rain across the region plus the general lack of ground water and lower water tables.
Our larger rivers are also affected by these conditions, but because they drain large areas and are fed by a network of tributaries that keep them cool and oxygenated even during the dog days of summer, they are able to handle the situation better. Many have dams that supply a steady flow of cool, aerated water. In fact, the tailrace areas below a couple of dams in northern New England have offered some of the best midseason trout action in recent years.
In general, our larger and midsized rivers also receive more liberal numbers of fish from the hatchery each year and are home to more carry-over fish, again because of better living conditions. For this reason, most of our special regulations areas (fly-fishing-only, catch-and-release, reduced bag or increased length limit and "trophy" or "special" trout waters) are on our larger streams and rivers.
MAINE On the west side of Lower Richardson Lake, draining the entire Rangeley chain of lakes, the Rapid River has traditionally been known as one of the premier landlocked salmon waters in Maine. It still is, but in recent years a world-class wild brook trout fishery reminiscent of the Rangeley region's glory days has developed there. Specimens up to 5 pounds have recently been taken, and 2- and 3-pounders are brought to the net each season.
The Rapid River starts its journey at Middle Dam and runs just over three miles to Umbagog Lake on the Maine-New Hampshire border. The river is slowed about halfway by a dilapidated roll dam below Pond-In-The-River, but such dams and the natural character of the river allow it to sustain a healthy native trout resource and great fishing. From Middle Dam to Umbagog, the river drops about 180 feet, which is reputedly one of the fastest drops of any river east of the Mississippi. From start to finish, except where it slows at the pond, the river is a continuous series of rapids and riffles broken by pools and prime trout habitat. This constant flow, plus cool water released from Middle Dam, keeps the Rapid cool and well oxygenated even during the heat of summer.
Despite its relatively short run, the Rapid River offers plenty of water to fish. No less than a dozen major pools and riffle areas are available, and there is more water nearby for the angler who likes to explore. The river above the pond is not wide and can be fished from shore, and wading is possible in many spots. All of these hotspots can be reached via an old road along the north bank that pretty much parallels the entire river. Even where it momentarily swings away, the river can be heard from just about anywhere along the road, and trails lead to the more popular fishing areas.
The Rapid River is restricted to fly-fishing-only, catch-and-release. July typically offers excellent dry-fly and nymph fishing with standard patterns.
Another unique quality about the Rapid River is its isolated locale. No roads lead directly to it, and access is generally limited to boats either from Umbagog Lake on the lower end or from South Arm on Lower Richardson Lake via the South Arm Road from Andover. Andover is reached via Route 5 from Route 2 west of Rumford or east of Bethel.
Fishermen who enjoy this river regularly have come to love it and seem to appreciate this slight inconvenience, preferring the river's high-quality angling and solitude to easy access.
Camping is available at South Arm Campground (207/784-3566) about five miles from Middle Dam. There is also a public boat launch past the campground on South Arm Road. At Middle Dam and within walking distance of the river, Lakewood Lodge, one of the very first commercial fishing camps established in the Rangeley region, offers lodging and meals in a rustic setting, plus a boat shuttle service for clients. Call them at (207) 392-1581 or (207) 243-2959.
Androscoggin River There was a time when the Androscoggin River downstream from the New Hampshire border was of little note as trout habitat because of pollution, but the river has come a long way in the past decade or so. The Maine section, between Gilead and West Bethel, may be one of the best-kept angling secrets in the Northeast. In recent years, this stretch has produced some respectable brown trout.
The lower section near West Bethel was stocked with 1,700 brown trout running 6 to 8 inches last year, and the Gilead section just upstream was one of a handful of Maine waters to receive a liberal stocking of rainbow trout under a new experimental program in which there were two releases of 850 rainbows running between 10 and 12 inches. The same amount of browns and rainbows are slated for release in 2002.
The Androscoggin in this stretch is big water. Some wading is possible, but it will be necessary to do some bushwhacking. Route 2 parallels the south shore, but it winds away from the river in places, and access is not always easy or convenient. At Gilead, three miles east of the New Hampshire border, a bridge crosses the river to the North Road, which parallels the north shore west a short distance and then east all the way to Bethel, where it again connects to Route 2. Access is generally easier on this side, and the river can be plainly seen from the North Road in places, although in other places it may be a half-mile away. If you pick your spots and do some exploring, you can find some good water.
I like to fish this section from a canoe or small boat. In July, water levels make this 7-mile run a pleasant, safe drift, and the entire stretch can be fished, particularly where the river turns away from the roads, around the numerous islands and at the mouths of the numerous tributaries entering from both banks.
Launch sites suitable for canoes and hand-carried boats can be found near the bridge in Gilead and downstream on the south shore in West Bethel at an old bridge crossing.
The Androscoggin River is open to general-rule angling, and fishermen using worms and night crawlers do quite well on the bigger trout in deep water. Dawn and dusk are good times to target the river's bigger browns. Using flies and lures will be productive off the tributaries and around some of the islands.
The daily bag limit is two trout, and the minimum length limit is 12 inches. Check Maine's current regulations booklet for changes and new stipulations that might apply for 2002.
There is a fish-consumption advisory on the Androscoggin. No more
than six to 12 fish meals per year are advised. A full list of guidelines will be found in the Maine Open Water Fishing Regulations booklet, which is available free from license vendors.
For more information on this section of the Androscoggin, contact the Strong regional headquarters of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 778-3322.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
NEW HAMPSHIRE Despite the prospering trout resources just over the border in Maine, the most popular angling section of the Androscoggin River has always been and remains miles upstream in northern New Hampshire from the dam in Errol downstream to Seven Islands, just upstream from Bear Brook. Unlike areas downstream, this 10-mile stretch has never been ravaged by pollution, and except for at the dam at Errol, it remains free flowing, clean and relatively unblemished. Considering its many blessings, this may very well be one of the top trout waters in northern New England.
Several things contribute to this assessment. One is the section's diversity. The angler will find rapids, riffles, slicks, glides, pockets and long stretches of flat water. In July, rainbow trout tend to hold in the faster, cooler runs, and anglers will do best to concentrate on the riffles, edges of rapids and pocket water. The section below Errol Dam down to the end of Braggs Bay and the three miles of faster water below Mollidgewock Brook are two prime areas. Browns seem to prefer the quieter areas. Rainbows in this section have been known to reach 3 and 4 pounds, and browns can reach 4 to 5 pounds.
From Errol Dam to the end of Braggs Bay, fly-fishing-only is the rule, but from that point downstream, lures, bait or flies can be used.
Access is another plus. Route 16 parallels the west bank all the way from Gorham and Milan to Errol. Along the stretch from Errol to Seven Islands, several picnic areas close to the river provide parking areas, and paths worn by fishermen lead to good fishing areas.
A few things should be kept in mind when you are fishing this section. This is big water. Wading is possible in many areas, but felt soles or metal cleats should be considered mandatory, and caution is a must. The river current is strong in many areas, and the bottom is uneven. Also, some areas are best reached and fished by canoe, but caution is advised. Launch sites are available at the Route 26 bridge in Errol and at spots along Route 16.
For first-time anglers and those looking for lunker rainbows and browns, this section has a lot to offer. A great way to explore and fish this area is by hiring the services of a guide or a drift boat service. Both can be arranged by contacting Hunters Angling Supply in North Conway at (603) 356-6000 or Moose Jaw Guide Service in Randolph at (603) 466-5179.
Additional information about fishing conditions on the river as well as information about angling supplies can be obtained by contacting the L.L. Cote Sports Shop on Main Street in Errol at (603) 482-7777. Lodging is available at Log Haven Campground (603/482-3294) or at the Errol Motel (603/482-3256), both in Errol.
Upper Connecticut River No matter what species of trout or what type of water the angler is looking for, it will be found on the Connecticut River, especially in the stretches between the three Connecticut Lakes and Lake Francis in Pittsburg and within the no-kill section above North Stratford. There is plenty of excellent trout water elsewhere between these areas, but public access can be a problem despite both banks being paralleled by major highways.
Between Third and Second lakes, the upper Connecticut is rather small, cold and clear, and it is bordered by alders and black spruce. In fact, it appears to be more of a brook than a river. Except where the river actually borders Route 3, it receives very little fishing pressure compared to downstream sections, which is unfortunate. While the section is difficult for flyfishermen, anglers with a can of worms and a short spinning rod will find large numbers of native brookies in dark, protected pools and riffles.
Downstream from Second Lake, the tailrace and river to First Lake is kept cool and well oxygenated by water released 40 feet below the dam. Because of this, brook trout are a good possibility here even during the heat of summer. From the dam downstream to the bridge on Magalloway Road, fly-fishing-only and catch-and-release are the rule, but below the bridge, the bag limit is two brook trout. Downstream from First Lake, the river is larger, with a continuous series of pools, rapids and riffles that support impressive numbers of mayflies, caddis and stoneflies. This is especially true downstream from Perry Stream, which swells and enriches the river. This stretch is restricted to fly-fishing-only primarily for brook trout with a two-fish limit and a 12-inch minimum length limit. This stretch is best accessed via the River Road, which leaves Route 3 south of First Lake.
Anglers should not visit this area of the upper Connecticut and not dedicate some time to the water below Murphy Dam in Pittsburg, which holds back Lake Francis. Water is released some 60 feet below the dam, resulting in a highly productive tailrace fishery for monster brown trout. The state-record brown trout, which weighed more than 16 pounds, was caught there back in 1975, and the area continues to produce lunker fish. The 30-mile stretch from Pittsburg to West Stewartstown downstream to Colebrook features fast riffles and pools, all of which are open to fishing with flies and lures. This stretch of the upper Connecticut is easily accessible from Route 3, although anglers may have more trouble finding access points below Pittsburg.
The special no-kill stretch in Stratford begins 1,600 feet above the bridge in Stratford and runs upstream to 250 feet below the Lyman Falls Dam in North Stratford. This is bigger water, and though many areas are best fished from canoes and small boats, careful wading is possible in many areas. The entire stretch, which is noted for its big browns, is limited to barbless hooks and artificial lures and flies only, and all fish must be released.
For information on lodging, tackle shops and other services in this area, contact the North Country Chamber of Commerce at (603) 237-8939.
VERMONT Vermont trout hunters can always find fish in July, but the 10-mile stretch of the Lamoille River between Wolcott and Morrisville is worthy of special note. The stretch has some of the finest trout water in north-central Vermont, and each year it produces some lunker browns and rainbows. It is open to fishing with any tackle and is easily accessible along Route 15.
The Green River enters the Lamoille from the north about midway between Wolcott and Morrisville and even in July runs cool because of water released f
rom the Green River Reservoir. The river offers excellent angling for brookies, rainbows and some wary, trophy-sized browns, particularly the 2 1/2-mile stretch downstream from Garland to Route 15, where access is by foot and not always easy.
For more information on these two Green Mountain State trout waters, contact the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, 103 South St., 10 South, Waterbury, VT 05671; or call (802) 241-3700.
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