In my younger days my overnight hunting and fishing trips throughout New England involved tents, various campers and truck caps made into a basic make-shift camper. Accommodations such as these allowed me free reign to set up camp just about anywhere. But for hunters who have families that want to come along on some hunting or fishing adventures, facilities with a solid roof, four walls and at least some basic home-like amenities makes life a whole lot easier.
I’ll also be honest here. My bones and muscles aren’t as young as they once were. And even when accompanied by my buddies I don’t mind coming in from a day of hunting or fishing to a warm or cozy camp, sitting down at a table for the evening meals and climbing into a sleeping bag on a comfortable bunk. By the sounds of the grunts and moans about the camp as boots and waders and as various hunting and fishing apparel hit the floor I think my hunting and fishing buddies feel the same way.
Fortunately, many of New England’s state parks, state forests and other public lands that offer some darn good hunting and fishing opportunities also have cabins available. Amenities vary but many state-run cabins are in or near prime hunting and fishing territory, and serve as a good base camp.
BAXTER STATE PARK, MAINE
Maine’s Baxter State Park is known for several things — for having over 200 miles of hiking trails to some of Maine tallest mountains, including the state’s tallest, Mt. Katahdin; a chance to view bears, moose and other wildlife in a wild setting; and fishing for brook trout.
The housekeeping cabins at Kidney and Daicey Pond are log-built and rustic but make a perfect base of operations. It is also important to keep in mind this is a wilderness area. Wildlife abounds, including moose and bears. There is no electricity, no Wi-Fi, and no running water. Visitors must bring their own sleeping gear, food and drinks, including drinkable water, cooking and eating utensils, gas stove and lanterns. There are no stores within the park, so plan carefully, accordingly and take everything needed, particularly plenty of dry and wet flies.
For those who come prepared, the cabins provide a base camp in fishing paradise.
There are 155 ponds inside the more than 200,000-acre preserve, and 41 of these ponds are Maine Heritage trout waters, specifically designated wild trout waters that are naturally reproductive and have not been stocked for at least 25 years. Of all the ponds within Baxter State Park, only nine are actually stocked.
For fly fishermen, the southwest corner of the park should be of prime interest. More than a dozen ponds with names like Jackson, Celia, Lower and Upper Fowler, Big and Little Rocky, Slaughter, Foss & Knowlton, Windy Pitch, Lost and Lily Pad are available. With the exception of Rocky Pond, most of these ponds are restricted to fly fishing only. While minimum length and daily creel limits vary, some carry slot limits, so a careful check of the regulations is recommended. Those with reduced bag or slot limits, such as Foss & Knowlton Pond and Draper Pond generally produce the larger fish, while those with higher creel and shorter length limits produce smaller trout but faster action, although of course no angler’s catch rate is set in stone.
The best time to fish these waters is in June when late afternoon and early evening hatches occur. The premier hatch is the Hex, or Green Drake hatch, which typically begins in late June and continues into July. When surface action is slow, casting Worden’s Worry, Hornbergs, Muddlers and other standard wet flies should do the trick. The fishing slows in August as surface temperatures warm and trout seek deeper water, but picks up again in September as surface temperatures cool. The best way to fish these waters is by canoe, which are available for rent at many of the ponds with advance reservation from the camp ranger’s office.
It should also be noted these are remote ponds. Access to each is by hiking trail from either Kidney Pond or Daicey Pond, both of which offer cabins and good trout fishing right at their doorsteps. The hikes are not difficult, but they vary in length, some of which travel through low, bug-infested low land — so pack plenty of insect repellent, a lunch, plenty to drink and a good flashlight for the before-dawn and after-sunset hikes in and out along with your fishing gear. Maps showing the various trails and lengths are available from the campground office and are very helpful to have.
North-central Maine – (20 miles west of Millinocket) – 207-723-5140 – baxterstatepark.org
Facilities: Daicey Pond, 10/ 2-6 person cabins; Kidney Pond, 12/ 2-6 person cabins ($57-$135).
Season: May 15 to October 15. The fishing season closes September 30.
Canoe Rentals: including life vests and paddles, $1/hr.
UMBAGOG LAKE STATE PARK, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Hunters and anglers looking for a get-away spot in northern New Hampshire should consider Umbagog State Park in Cambridge, just east of Errol. Created in 1998 Umbagog is New Hampshire’s newest addition to the state’s park system and hasn’t been fully discovered, yet.
The park sits on the lake’s southeast corner. Umbagog Lake itself is split down the middle between Maine and New Hampshire. Fishermen can fish the entire lake plus the outlet Androscoggin River downstream to the dam in Errol and Magalloway River, and Rapid River on the Maine side upstream to read markers with a valid fishing license from either state. The lake covers about 7,000 acres, and has numerous coves and some islands, so there’s lot of areas to wet a line.
While brook trout and landlocked salmon area available in the tributary waters, primarily in the Rapid River early and late in the season when water temperatures are coldest, Umbagag Lake itself is relatively shallow. Its weedy coves and shoreline areas warm quickly and the lake is is best known for its smallmouth and largemouth bass, pickerel, yellow perch and various panfish. Most of these fish are not picky and can provide consistent action on standard lures, spinners and poppers right through the season. The exciting thing about Umbagag is much of the action is close to the surface, along the shoreline and around structure due to the lake’s shallow depth.
During the summer months when water temperatures are warmest, early and lake in the day typically offer the best action. The lake is open to fishing from ice-out to ice-in but between May 15 and June 30 all bass caught must be released. Starting July 1 the limit is two bass, only one of which can exceed 14 inches. The daily limit on pickerel is 10 fish.
Much of the New Hampshire shore of Umbagog Lake north of Sweat Meadows where the Androscogin River departs the lake is within the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge covers some 25,650 acres of wetland and upland forest. South of that point an additional 11,500 acres of shoreline is conservation easement, which abuts the state park property. All of it is prime waterfowl habitat and offers some good hunting for resident and migrating Canada geese, mallards and wood duck. Fortunately, the park remains open on a first-come, first serve honor system into November allowing hunters take advantage of the fall hunting seasons. Commercial wood harvesting has taken place on the state easement lands and there are roads to drive and walk for those willing to explore the upland areas for woodcock, ruffed grouse, whitetail deer, black bear, snowshoe hare and coyotes.
All seasons, limits, license and stamp requirements and regulations are set by the New Hampshire Fish and Wildlife Department so hunters should check the current summary guide for details or visit www.wildlife.state.nh.us.
235 East Route 26 – Cambridge, NH 03579 – 603-482-7795 - nhstateparks.org
Facilities: Base campground with 27 camp sites with hookups and three housekeeping cabins; 33 primitive campsites and 4 isolated housekeeping cabins accessible only by boat. All campsites $30-$35, cabins $50-$80.
Season: May 5-November 12. Limited services and personal after October 23.
On Site: Swimming beach, canoe, kayak and rowboat rentals, boat launch and marina with fuel, camp store, playground, dump station, restrooms and showers. Pets are allowed with some restrictions.
Nearby: 10 miles away in Errol, restaurants, LL Cote Sports Center (fishing, hunting & outdoor supplies).
LITTLE RIVER STATE PARK, VERMONT
Little River State Park covers about 500 acres on the south end of the Waterbury Reservoir in Waterbury. Both are surrounded by the Mt. Mansfield State Forest. Covering over 44,400 acres, the property is the largest contiguous landholding owned by the Vermont Department of Forests and Parks and offers plenty for both fishermen and hunters.
The park has 81 tent sites ($20-$22), 20 lean-tos ($25-$27) and 5 one room cabins ($50), so whatever level of camping comfort you want, you can get.
Waterbury Reservoir covers some 880 acres. Anglers visiting the park in May and early June will have an opportunity to catch rainbow and brown trout and trolling flies, lures and bait while water temperatures are still cool, but smallmouth bass are the big draw. The bass season opens the second Saturday in June. The reservoir is blessed with submerged trees, logs and brush, rocky points, boulders, rocky shores and cliffs, all prime cover.
Later in the season, particularly in July and August, vegetation provides additional cover. Visitors should try fishing these early and late in the day with unweighted soft plastic worm baits, suspended jerkbaits and other standard bass offerings.
For moving water anglers, the Winooski River below the dam is stocked with rainbow and brown trout and is a great place to cast a fly, lure or bait. Anglers casting hardware should take a good selection of Mepps, Panther Martins and Rooster Tail spinners and Phoebe and Dardevle spoons. Fly fishermen should do well with Wooly Buggers, Hare’s Ear Nymph, Adams, Hendrickson and other dry flies, beadhead nymphs, Muddlers and Hornbergs.
The river is outside the park but is well worth a day time to explore. There is good water all along the Little River Road leading to park, and the stretch from the dam in Bolton to the Route 2 Bridge is managed as trophy water with a two-fish limit.
While fishing is a big draw at the park, the state forest lands are also a great place to hunt, using the park as a base of operations. The park stays open until Oct. 22, long enough to take advantage of the grouse season, the early bear season and archery deer season.
3444 Little River Road, – Waterbury, Vt 05676 – 802-244-7103 – vtstateparks.com/littleriver
Facilities: 81 tent sites ($20-$22), 20 lean-tos ($25-$27) and 5 one room cabins ($50).
Season: May 19-October 22
On Site: Restrooms with flush toilets and hot and cold water, coin operated showers, dump station, swimming beach, playground, boat launch and boat rentals.
Nearby: Shopping, services, Ben and Jerry’s Tour and other tours in Waterbury Center and zip lining Stowe Mountain Resort.