Nothing signals spring to an angler like that first outing to a favorite trout stream. While Massachusetts hasn’t had an official “opening day” for years, most anglers make their first trip in April when water levels stabilize from the annual spring run-off and stream stocking is in full swing.
Massachusetts provides a wide variety of trout waters to pick from, ranging from tiny trickles that harbor native brook trout to large rivers with good populations of trophy-sized browns and rainbows. There are even streams in the eastern part of the state that host runs of sea-run brookies and browns. Whether your preference is small streams or large rivers — fly, spin or bait — brookies, browns or rainbows — Massachusetts has something for everyone’s taste.
Traveling from east to west, we begin with the Merrimack River. Coming into the state from southern New Hampshire, this stream dominates its corner of the state. Flowing northeast from the town of Tyngsborough, the Merrimack travels about 50 miles to its outlet in the sea at Newburyport.
One of the reasons the Merrimack holds such a good trout population lies in the fact that there are nearly two dozen other streams emptying into it that receive stockings of trout that eventually end up in the Merrimack. From Bridge Meadow Brook in Tyngsborough to the Powow River in Amesbury, the Merrimack benefits from these unscheduled infusions of fresh fish throughout the season.
This trickle-down effect gives anglers a clue as to where to begin the search for quality trout fishing. Fish the mouths of feeders, especially during or just after the spring run-off period, or later in the year when the water in the main river can become low and uninvitingly warm for trout.
Try the tributaries at Stony Brook and Deep Brook in Chelmsford, the Little River and East Meadow River in Haverhill, or the Shawsheen River in Andover and Tewksbury.
An added bonus to the Merrimack is the opportunity to catch an Atlantic salmon. Upstream of the Essex Dam in Lawrence, anglers will find salmon that are returning to the river from the sea as well as broodstock fish that migrate downstream from New Hampshire waters where they were stocked.
These broodstock fish can reach 20 pounds and are terrific fighters. A favorite spot to target these fish is the pool below the Pawtucket Dam in the town of Lowell.
The Parker River is one of the state’s best-kept secrets when it comes to trout angling. Frequently overlooked by fishermen heading for the Merrimack and other better-known streams, the Parker has a very good trout population, a wide variety of insect life, and easy access via state-owned land. Its deep, leisurely currents travel for over 20 miles to its terminus at Plum Island. The headwaters at Sperry’s Pond in Boxford are wadeable, although the lower stretches are best fished in a small boat or canoe because of the depth and treacherous wading due to uncertain bottom structure.
The Crane Pond Wildlife Management Area encompasses most of the upper section and is accessible from North Street in Georgetown. Its deep pools and runs hold good numbers of fish, including holdover browns and rainbows running up to 5 pounds.
The Ipswich River in Wilmington is not an easy river to fish in places, and there are long stretches that require a canoe to reach. This makes it possible for the river to support a large number of both wild and holdover trout. Good fishing begins at the bridge on Woburn Street in Wilmington and runs all the way to the Ipswich River Park in North Reading. A lot of the lower stretch is strictly canoe water, but it does have wadeable stretches here and there. The upper section is heavily stocked, and therefore heavily fished, but a bit of looking and walking can reveal seldom-fished pools.
Maybe the best fishing is found below the Peabody Dam. It’s a hard piece of water to get to, but can provide big rewards to anglers who put forth the effort. The four-mile stretch to the Howe Station in Middleton is rarely fished, yet it is heavily populated with trout. Access to this stretch is off Route 62 onto Boston Road just east of Middleton. There’s a dirt road at the bridge that goes upstream, leading to some wadeable portions of the river.
Another popular area to fish is along Ipswich Road in Topsfield (which turns into Topsfield Road in Ipswich). This portion offers wade- and bank-fishing. Park along the road or in the Bradley Palmer State Park lot.
Central Massachusetts holds its own when it comes to quality trout streams. The Nissitisset River travels from the New Hampshire border down to the Nashua River in Pepperell. It boasts Massachusetts’ first designated fly-fishing-only area, nearly two miles of water managed under catch-and-release regulations.
This area begins at the state line and runs to the first downstream bridge at Prospect Street. Access is available from Brookline Road above Pepperell center and from North Street for the lower section. A popular access is along Brookline Street at the Henry Colombo Wildlife Management Area. There is a gated path that forks and leads anglers up- or downstream.
The Squannacook River is another Massachusetts stream that has something for everyone. From freestone headwater brookies to deep meadow pools holding huge browns, the river boasts a great forage base, easy access and plenty of public land to explore.
The section of river from Vose Dam in West Groton up to Harbor Pond in Townsend is a popular stretch because it is easy to get to and both banks are owned by the state.
This is part of the Squannacook River Wildlife Management Area. Access is from Townsend Road on the east side in Groton, and from another Townsend Road on the west side in the town of Shirley.
Between Townsend and the headwater reaches, the river is accessed by a trail that goes behind the elementary school off Route 13, or from Turnpike Road. Anglers may also park on Dudley Street and hike through Townsend State Forest.
One notable area is the stretch of water known as Black Rock, named for a huge overhanging boulder. It’s a difficult section to reach, a long hike upstream from the trail behind the elementary school, but the walk is worth it. This is probably the best trout
water on the river, and its pools offer excellent hatches and prime holding water for trophy-sized trout.
The Stillwater River from Oakdale to East Princeton deserves mention here, although not strictly for its trout fishing. The river is well stocked with rainbows and browns in the spring, and good angling is available, but the river’s attraction in the spring is the run of landlocked salmon that come from Wachusett Reservoir. Weighing up to 5 pounds, these landlocks are willing feeders in the spring, and terrific fighters.
Access is available from Route 140, which closely follows the river along most of its length. If possible, plan to show up when the river is on the rise from run-off or a spring rain, which brings the fish upstream.
I’m not quite sure that it is truly central, but the Tully River near Athol is worthy of mention here. Flowing into the Millers River just west of Athol, its main branch runs just over a mile from its beginning at the junction of the west and east branches in downtown Athol. All three of the branches offer excellent fishing for stocked and holdover browns and rainbows, and in its upper reaches there are native brook trout. The most popular access for the main portion of the river can be found by turning off Route 2A west of where it crosses the Millers River. This puts you on North Orange Road, which parallels the river. To find the West Branch, take Route 32 (West Royalston Road) and stay to the left when it splits. This is Tully Road, and it follows the West Branch to Tully Pond. If you take the right turn when West Royalton Road splits, you’ll find that it parallels the East Branch to Tully Lake.
The crown jewel of western Massachusetts trout streams is the Deerfield. Originating out of several branches in Vermont, the river is cold, clear and loaded with fish.
There are two catch-and-release areas on the Deerfield, with the upper section in Florida-Rowe from the Fife Brook Dam to the Hoosic Tunnel. The lower restricted area is in Charlemont, from Pelham Brook to the Mohawk Campground.
Access to the river is off Route 2 (the Mohawk Trail) and Zoar River Road.
There are several dams along the river, which means the water level can change drastically with very little notice. Many an angler has found himself stranded on a midstream boulder because of unscheduled releases — not a pleasant situation to be in!
The fishing, however, can be spectacular. Obviously the catch-and-release sections hold lots of fish, as they are heavily stocked and killing fish is not allowed. But the rest of the river is also a fantastic fishery, with heavy stocking and plenty of holdover trout.
Along Route 5 in Deerfield are several good spots for fishermen, including the Rainbow Pool, the Stillwater Bridge and the pocket water between the two. Access is easy, with several parking areas and a few places where a canoe can be launched.
The stretch of river below Shelburne Falls is not easy to get to because of the terrain, but it’s worth the effort. Flowing through a deep valley, this seldom-fished section has deep pools and trout over 5 pounds that reward the angler willing to put forth the effort to reach them. The portion of river around the Bardwells Ferry bridge in Conway is also a favorite, with deep, boulder-strewn water providing ideal habitat for large trout.
A smaller, more intimate stream is the Green River. You can find it by taking Route 2 to Colrain Road. From there, take River Road (which turns to dirt) to where the road parallels the river all the way through West Leyden up to the Vermont border.
Mostly pocket water and riffles, the Green River has occasional pools that hold surprisingly large trout. This is a productive, pretty river to fish and it’s well worth the hike it takes to reach it.
In the town of Barre, the Ware River is another overlooked trout fishery. Formed from two branches, the main river flows for more than 20 miles through Barre, Ware, Hardwick and Palmer to its confluence with the Quabog River. It offers a wide variety of trout water, from open meadows and gentle flows to wild, plunging rocky rapids. All along its length it is generously stocked with rainbows and browns, and holds large holdover trout as well. The best spring fishing is in the upper section.
To get there, take Route 32 to Barre Plains, and then take Nichols Road to Route 122, which follows the river upstream to Coldbrook Road and the Barre Falls flood control dam. One other section is noteworthy. Located in Palmer, the area below where the Swift River joins it is a delight to fish, although it is a short stretch. This stretch holds plenty of trout and is largely neglected. It can be reached by parking at the Water Department pump house near the Route 81 bridge and hiking down to the big pool opposite where the Swift River comes in.
The West Branch Swift offers great trout fishing mainly because of the terrain surrounding it. The area is notable for its wilderness ambience and the feeling of solitude that prevails while fishing there. The main tributary to the western arm of the Quabbin Reservoir, the Swift River holds stocked and holdover trout, wild brookies, and hosts a run of landlocked salmon from the Quabbin.
The West Branch is on U.S. Route 202 at the town line between Shutesbury and New Salem. The downstream section is on Quabbin Reservoir land where extra restrictions are in place. Anglers should be sure to study the latest regulations before fishing that stretch.
Upstream from the highway, the water is open year ’round. New Boston Road parallels the upper section of the river, and can be reached by going west on Cooleyville Road from 202, and taking the second right turn.
The East Branch Swift River comes out of the Popple Camp State Wildlife Management Area in Petersham and Phillipston. It terminates in the Pottapaug Pond portion of Quabbin Reservoir.
The East Branch gets its share of stocked trout throughout the year, and its cold, fertile waters provide a good forage base for holdover fish. Anglers may access the East Branch by going north on Route 32A into Petersham. North of the town line, the stream goes under the road. Downstream from here is Quabbin land and its seasonal restrictions, but the upper side is open to fishing year ’round.
To get there, go past the bridge and take Glen Valley Road, which parallels the river, into the Harvard Forest. The headwaters are along East Street in Petersham Center.
The Hoosic River has been neglected by anglers because of heavy PCB pollution, but that trouble is largely confined to the main stem. Both the South and North branches offer superb angling, and neither i
The South Branch is along Route 8 in the town of Cheshire. Beginning below Cheshire Reservoir, fish downstream by following the abandoned railroad bed that crosses Church Street and goes along the river.
The North Branch Hoosic River is paralleled by Route 8 from North Adams north through Clarksburg to the Vermont border. The area near Clarksburg State Park offers good fishing with several interesting pools and riffles.
Both branches are stocked heavily by the state, and have enough deep pools and runs to sustain a good population of holdover trout approaching 5 pounds.
This is a misunderstood stream, largely because of local myths and pollution horror stories, but quality fishing is there for the angler willing to try it.
There are, of course, many other fine trout streams in Massachusetts, and many waters are equal to those mentioned here. One of the best things an angler can do is get a good map, such as the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer series, and start prospecting. Also, anglers should check out the MassWildlife Internet Web site at www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw for regulations and publications listing stocked trout waters.
A bit of research, a little legwork, and you’ll find that the good old days of Massachusetts trout angling are right now!