New England's Top Spring Trout Hot Spots
New England has some fantastic trout fisheries. Here's where to wet a line this spring.
Game & Fish takes a look at the best places to fish for trout this spring in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
MOOSEHEAD LAKE, MAINE
In recent years Moosehead has been one of the best lakes in the state. “Average-size” brookies are always a possibility but specimens in the 2- and 3-pound range are not unusual and 4- to 5-pounders are very possible.
Smelt are the primary food source here, so it helps to time the annual run, triggered by a combination of warming spring conditions, depleted snow and ice pack in the area and at least 40-degree water temperatures dumping into the lake to trigger upstream movement. That typically happens within a couple weeks after the first open water appears.
Dan Legere has owned the Maine Guide Fly Shop in Greenville (maineguideflyshop.com; 207-695-2266) and been a guide in the area for 35 years. “Anglers should keep in mind these fish are close to shore,” Legere says. “One of our tricks is to fish where we see bottom on the inside of the boat and deep water on the other. Another is, if you can’t get in amongst the visible rocks and boulders where the brookies are holding try casting a Mickey Finn in towards shore, let it drift and swing behind the boat. It might not actually do the catching, but the trout will follow it and have several flies to choose from as it makes the swing. It’s saved the day more than once.”
For gear, Legere says the most popular setup includes a full sinking fly line during the ice-out period and a long 20-foot, 8-pound test Maxima leader. For flies tandem Gray Ghost, Black Ghost Marabou, Magog Smelt, 9-3 and Epoxy Head Smelt streamers are all popular.
Although Legere specializes in fly fishing he says lures such as the DB Smelt, silver and blue Flash King and some of the Yo-Zuri 3D Crystal Minnow lures in blue/silver, silver/black, silver/bronze and Glass excel in early season. “And it’s tough to beat trolling smelt when the run is on,” Legere says, “but just remember smelt are typically trolled at a slower speed than lures and flies.”
LAKE WINNIPESAUKEE, NEW HAMPSHIRE
New Hampshire’s largest lake is specifically managed for lake trout and landlocked salmon. The open water fishing season opened April 1. Since 2000 the big lake was officially deemed free of ice in March only three times.
Once open water is available, Lake Winnipesaukee is popular among trolling enthusiasts’ anglers looking for rainbow trout. Early season rainbows are much like landlocked salmon, typically found within a dozen feet or so of the surface and often close to shore were smelt are congregating, particularly off the mouth of tributaries where water temperatures are warmer, and off outlets where rainbows are known to “drop down” on the heels of smelt.
Chances are ice will still cover much of Winnipesaukee on opening day. But navigable water may be showing in Wolfeboro Bay, along the Gilford shore to Ellacoya State Park, Locke’s Island off Glendale and Governor’s Island on the west side. The Weirs Beach area off the mouth of Paugus Bay often opens early as well.
Warm daytime temperatures, a period of low pressure bringing rain and strong winds, especially out of the northwest can quickly expand these areas and make more water available but these are good early season locations that offer public launch facilities.
Early season trolling tactics include the use of tandem flies such as the Gray Ghost and its variations, Maynard’s Marvel, Mickey Finn, Joe’s Smelt and other attractor and smelt imitations attached to sinking lines and 15- to 20-foot, 6- to 8-pound leaders. Popular lures include 1/16-ounce and 1/8-ounce Sutton Spoons, the DB Smelt, Mooselook Wobblers, Flash King and the Top Gun and Smelt Gun, both from Moosalamo.
The Top Gun (TG-1) Winni Derby is a popular color combination. Most are generally fished 50 to 150 feet behind the stern in the motor wake and off the inside of the boat. The same goes when trolling smelt and other baits. Planer boards are also used to help get lures, flies and bait in close to shore and up against ice flows where smelt and rainbows often linger.
These and other recommended offerings, as well as open water conditions are available at various bait and tackle shops in the area such as AJ Bait and Tackle in Meredith (ajbaitandtackle.com; 603-279-3152) and the Hole In The Wall in Wolfeboro (nhholeinthewall.com; 603-569-4653).
LAKE CHAMPLAIN, VERMONT
Lake trout are a popular target for Champlain fishermen. These fish may hit double digits in some instances. Lake trout are most abundant in the main basin from Crown Point north to Isle La Motte. Look for action off or near the mouth of tributaries, along rocky shores, shoals and bumps, typically hanging where shallow water descends to deep. This is where smelt will be and when on the feed bag, lake trout can be easy to find.
Anglers unfamiliar with the big lake should look for boat and gull activity concentrated in certain areas. Local bait and tackle shops including Classic Outfitters in South Burlington (802) 860-7375; and North Country Bait and Tackle in Swanton (802) 868-7843; are also good contacts for information on current hotspots.
These shops are also good contacts for what lake trout are biting on. Typically, offerings such as Rapala’s Husky and Deep Husky Jerks, sizes 1/8- to1/2-ounce in metallic silver or glass finish, 4- to 5-inch metallic silver/blue, rainbow and orange fluorescent Flatfish, Luhr Jensen’s Kwickfish, Sutton and Top Gun spoons in the same sizes and color patterns do the trick.
WOOD RIVER, RHODE ISLAND
Most who fish trout in Rhode Island will agree the Woods River is the state’s premier trout stream. Although brook trout are no longer stocked to prevent competition with wild populations, the river is heavily stocked with brown and rainbow trout several times throughout the season.
The most popular section meanders 3.5 miles through 14,000-acre Arcadia Wildlife Area in Exeter. Offering a mixture shallow runs, short riffles, bends and undercut banks broken by deeper pools, the Woods River provides a picturesque setting increasingly difficult to find in the Ocean State. The river opened to trout fishing the second Saturday in April. Although a period of rain can swell the flow, wading is rarely difficult once the season gets underway.
Even when water levels are a tad high, and certainly under normal flow conditions light fly tackle and spinning tackle are sufficient (spinners such as the #1 and #2 Mepps Aglia excel here). Either plain, dressed or the Aglia-E in hot pink, size 0, 1 and 2 the Blue Fox Vibrax in silver, silver/hot pink and silver/red along with Panther Martin and Rooster Tails of similar size and color are also popular.
But the Wood is very popular with fly fishermen. In April the river witnesses prolific subsurface and emerging insect activity. Popular early season offerings include Gray Drakes, Black Quills, usually in the afternoon to evening period. Pheasant Tail Nymphs, Red Quills, Rusty Spinners, Dun Variant and Compara Duns, all sizes 12 to 14 and 16 arepopular.
DEERFIELD RIVER, MASSACHUSETTS
There are two catch and release areas on the Deerfield. The upper stretch starts below Fife Brook Dam in Monroe and runs 1.6 miles downstream to the Hoosac Tunnel Bridge. Numerous pull-offs lead to a dozen or so popular fishing spots including Lookout and Rainbow Runs, Diamond Drill Pool and The Flats stretch is typical tailwaters offering a mixture of clear riffles, deep and shallow pools and runs, all accessible from River and easily waded during normal water flows.
Daily water releases from Fife Brook Dam, however, increase flows quickly, especially when aided by possible spring rains and late snow melts so caution is advised. For up-to-date water release information fishermen should telephone (800) 452-1737. At the voice prompt enter 255123.
The lower catch and release area starts where Pelham Brook enters the river and extends two miles downstream to Route 2. This section is wider and generally deeper with slower runs. Both sections are heavily stocked with rainbow trout and examples 12- to 15-inch class are quite possible with holdover brown into the 20-inch class. As on the upper section, numerous pull-offs are available off Zoar Road. Some of the hikes to the river are longer, but it holds some of the largest trout.
It is approximately seven miles between the two areas. Many fishermen familiar with the upper Deerfield River start the day off in the upper C&R area. Once water levels make wading and fishing difficult they head to the lower section knowing it takes approximately three hours for high water to get there. Being wider and generally deeper the rise in water in the lower area is not as abrupt but keeping eye on the rising tide is still advised.
Both sections are popular with lure and fly fishermen. Lures such as small and medium Blue Fox Vibrax, #2 Panther Martins in classic silver and rainbow trout variations, the Mepps Aglia in sizes 0 to size 3, and the Phoebe in silver and blue/silver, and the Kastmaster in 1/12-ounce, 1/8-ounce and 1/4-ounce sizes are popular springtime and high water offerings. When cast alongside the deeper pools and riffles and allowed to bounce along the bottom and swing into the current these are bound to draw strikes.
The river is blessed with an abundance of insects. Deerfield trout are receptive to imitations in all life stages, but they can be selective to what and how flies are presented. Even under April water conditions, long 9 and 10-foot tapered leaders attached to floating lines in the shallows and sink-tip lines in the deeper pools are often called for. The best piece of advice is hit the river with well stocked fly boxes or touch base with the good folks at the Deerfield Fly Shop in South Deerfield (deerfieldflyshop.com; 413-397-3665) to get an update on the best fly patterns.
UPPER WEST BRANCH OF THE FARMINGTON TMA, CONNECTICUT
The West Branch of the Farmington River enters from Massachusetts at Hartland in north-central Connecticut. After picking up the East Branch in New Hartford to form the Farmington River it flows to the Connecticut River at Windsor traveling more than 80 miles from start to finish. While artificial lures are allowed the upper West Branch is considered one of the premier fly fishing rivers in the northeast.
Although there is prime water downstream to Collinsville the best and most popular trout water is found in the upper tailwater stretch from Riverton downstream to about New Harford where reliable 50-degree water releases provide excellent habitat conditions.
Food preferences can change day-to-day, even hour-to-hour and it is always best to have a generous supply of flies and assorted sizes. To play it safe, anglers planning an early season visit should make a point to pick the brains of the folks at Up Country Sportsfishing in Pine Meadow (farimingtonriver.com; 860-379-1952) to get updated water conditions and what fish are dining on.
Typically, March and April see various top water and subsurface caddis, stoneflies, and midges in size 16 to 22 dominating. As water temperatures warm in April expect good hatches on the surface. Streamers with lots of bulk and motion fished deep and slow such as size patterns with white, black or olive marabou and rabbit strips, including Zonkers, Woolly Buggers and Matukas, sizes 2 to 12 can also produce early action.