Great New England Summer Fishing Destinations
Here's where and how to enjoy fishing from Connecticut to Maine.
Outdoor writers face no greater challenge than coming up with one great fishing destination for each state in New England.
Considering that all six states contain hundreds of lakes, ponds rivers and streams that are heavily stocked or carefully managed for maximum output and that five of the six states also boast some of the best saltwater fishing opportunities on the East Coast, trying to nail down just one or two “best bets” is daunting, to say the least.
It’s a sure bet that every fishermen in the Northeast has their own ideas about where to find the best summertime fishing in their state (including the author), but the name of the game is “all things considered,” and with access, abundance, fishing pressure and long-term performance in mind, the following are my picks for the best “road trip” fishing destinations in New England.
If nothing else these proven hotspots will provide anglers with a much-needed jump start on the 2019 summer fishing season.
All through the summer, one could hardly go wrong by recommending the Deerfield River for a classic trout fishing experience. The Deerfield River is a popular Bay State tailwater that originates in Vermont and flows into Massachusetts in Monroe. Fishing is most productive beginning in April and on into December.
The MassWildlife fisheries division stocks the river from April through October to increase fish populations during the busiest summer months. Wild brown trout and wild rainbow trout reproduce naturally in the watershed and thanks to the local catch-and-release ethic there are plenty of big, holdover stocked trout. Wild brook trout are few and far between, but persistent anglers can find them in all sections of the river.
Nymphs, streamers and dry flies always work well on the Deerfield. A talented fisherman can fish fast water, slow water and pocket water using dry flies, wet flies and streamers in the same day and enjoy great success. Flies ranging from the tiniest midges and mayflies to huge sculpin imitations work best in spring and early summer. Switch to large dries with wet-fly droppers when the water is high and fast, particularly after a summer rainstorm. For more information visit masswildlife.com.
As is the case with Massachusetts, Connecticut’s anglers would be hard pressed to find a more productive summer fishery than the famed West Branch Farmington River Trout Management Area. This 3.6 mile section of river is located between the Route 219 Bridge in New Hartford and the power lines one mile upstream of the Route 318 Bridge in Pleasant Valley.
This stretch of river has turned into a blue-ribbon destination that supports outstanding fishing opportunities for large stocked brown trout and rainbow trout including fish in the 12- to 18-inch class. Based on annual fall electroshocking surveys there are also good numbers of wild brown trout exceeding 24 inches long. The TMA is a year-round catch-and-release area with a barbless hook requirement for all tackle. This is a very popular destination for fly fisherman because trout can be seen rising here 365 days a year.
Early-season hatches beginning in April and continuing well into early June include blue winged olives and blue quills followed by the various Hendricksons. Dry-fly imitations of duns and spinners produce good fishing in the current seams as well as small, dark nymphs and emergers.
Later in summer try March Browns followed by sulphurs and light Cahills. Long, light tippets are necessary when matching the hatch. Grasshopper and flying ant imitations also produce good catches during warm weather. For additional information, visit ct.gov/deep.
In days gone by trout and salmon were the species of choice among Pine Tree State anglers, but state fisheries officials now say that bass have overtaken the salmonids as the most popular summer fish in Maine. One trip to Maine’s legendary Penobscot River will prove why, year after year, smallmouth bass is king of the North Country.
A fishermen using flies or lures can expect to catch 30 or more smallmouths per day up to 4-pounds, especially on the lower Penobscot. From mid-April through July the action can be literally non-stop regardless of tackle choice or tactics (shore or boat) employed.
The Penobscot, once used as a sluiceway for logs destined for Bangor, is often wide and deep as it flows south from Medway. The river twists and turns for 70 miles along the way, with excellent smallmouth fishing throughout. Most anglers focus their efforts on the stretch from Mattawamkeag nearly 55 miles to Old Town.
The best smallmouth fishing begins in late May and continues into August, which coincides with the spawning period. Early and late in the day smallmouths will hit just about anything thrown at them from flies to crankbaits, spinners, spinnerbaits and everything in between. In fact, many guides will challenge their clients to come up with a pattern or lure that Penobscot River smallmouths won’t take. More often than not the guide wins that bet. For more information on Maine’s fantastic Penobscot River smallmouth fishing, visit mefishwildlife.com.
Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire covers 72 square miles featuring 365 islands and 240 miles of shoreline. Needless to say, “Winnie” is a summertime bass angler’s dream come true. It would be impossible to fish the entire lake and all its many coves, bays and drop-offs in a single lifetime. Many anglers certainly give it their best shot, however, and come away with some memorable bass-fishing experiences.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass are plentiful in this lake. Smallmouths are most abundant in flat, sandy areas featuring a precipitous drop into deeper water. For starts, try the Forty Islands, Ragged Island, Sleepers Island, Middle Ground Shoal, The Graveyard and Winter Harbor.
Largemouth bass are most abundant in shallow water where stumps and weeds are the dominant cover type. Start looking for largemouths at Lees Mills, The Basin, Green Basin, Moultonboro, Paugus Bay and Salmon Meadow.
In late spring and summer work the big lake’s shoreline shallows where both species spawn. Drift or motor a long cast from shore using spinners, spoons, crankbaits, spinnerbaits or big, gurgly flies to entice a strike.
The best fishing tends to be early and late in the day but some great action may be had on overcast days or when a storm has passed or is predicted to strike. Be careful, of course, while boating under such conditions. The most weather-wise anglers will make some fantastic catches just before or after a major summer storm. For more on Lake Winnipesaukee’s great summertime bass fishing, visit wildlife.state.nh.us.
Every state in New England has its premier showcase water and Vermont is no different. If bigger is better there is no denying that Vermont’s “side” of Lake Champlain is the place to be when considering a summertime fishing trip in the Green Mountain State.
The central and southern portions of Lake Champlain are known as “bass country,” easily proven by the profusion of bass boats that appear on the lake during tournaments. Professional anglers quickly learn that the lake’s dense weed beds and rocky drop-offs provide excellent habitat for bass. The locals, of course, have known Champlain’s little secret all along.
There are more than a dozen state- or municipally-owned boat launches each with ample parking. Hard surfaced boat ramps provide easy lake access for the biggest bass rig. Local bait and tackle shop owners are quick to suggest locations and tackle that is “on fire” on any given day.
In early spring, fish the big lake’s many tributaries and creeks, where anglers will find plenty of structure and good numbers of big largemouths. During the spawning period (generally through June) Senkos, tubes and jerk baits are good go-to basic lures. When fishing close to the marinas, try black or blue jigs close to shore and cover. For more on Vermont’s immense Lake Champlain and all its summertime angling opportunities, visit vtfishandwildlife.com.
There’s a different kind of bass that draws anglers to Rhode Island’s storied shoreline. When the state-record striped bass weighs over 75-pounds it’s a sure bet that anglers up and down the coast of Little Rhody will be trying their best to catch the next, bigger specimen.
While great shoreline striper fishing may be enjoyed anywhere in Rhode Island where there is shoreline and stripers, the state’s legendary South Shore is the place to be for king-sized summer stripers. From Matunuck Beach to Watch Hill Lighthouse there are long stretches of pristine beaches with average tides running around four feet. There are few cuts, bars or drop-offs to attract big stripers to the beaches, so Rhode Island surf fishing is best conducted from a rocky platform.
Most of the popular surf-fishing locations in the Ocean State are at the stone-and-rock ends of local beach fronts. Three of these areas are Fresh Pond Rocks, Weekapaug Breachway, and the famous Watch Hill Lighthouse. In these areas, stripers begin to move in during the first week in June.
Though these areas will produce earlier in the season, the action will dwindle from early August through mid-September. Night tides are best overall, with light South, West or Southwest winds. Surf rolls of two to three feet are considered ideal. Moonless tides in the dead of night with light winds produce the best catches particularly near dusk and dawn.
For surf fishing a heavy-weight spinning rod with 30-pound-test braided line is considered basic. Fly-fishing is best with a medium- to heavy-action 10- to 12-weight rod. Three-foot, 50-pound test leader material is best for spinning and casting gear, while 30-pound-test leaders will work for fly-rodding.
A live eel on a snelled No. 7/0 offset circle hook is the standard bait rig for Rhode Island’s surf stripers. Run the hook under the jaw and out the back of the eel’s head, slightly behind one of the eyes. A Super Strike Bullet Plug, Gibbs Stubby Needlefish or Danny plugs also work well. Productive colors include dark green, light green and black.
For fly-fishing standard eel patterns and black deceivers are proven producers. Use as long and heavy a leader as you can handle smoothly and effectively. For more information on Rhode Island’s great summertime saltwater fishing adventures, visit dem.ri.gov.
It goes without saying that there are hundreds, even thousands of great summertime fishing opportunities available to New England’s summertime anglers. Each state’s fisheries division offers maps and detailed descriptions of most managed waters and in many cases private blogs and other Internet sites offer additional information on many popular fishing destinations.