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Tenkara Fishing Diary – 2015 Summaries of 20 Rivers

Big rainbow trout caught on the Baker River near Wentworth, NH
Big rainbow trout caught on the Baker River near Wentworth, NH

I visited 20 different rivers this year (2015) as a beginner angler, trying to build up a broad base of fly fishing experience in order to become a competent Tenkara trout fisherman. But I have fallen behind on documenting my Tenkara fishing trip reports and the experiences I had fishing these rivers as my skill and experience based evolved. I want to document these trips because I want to go back to many of these beautiful rivers and brooks, now that my skills have improved.

My strategy this year was to get out as much as possible in order to learn how to read trout water, since that is the key to catching them. That worked and by the end of the season, I’d started catching fish regularly. There’s more to it than that, but Tenkara, or reel-less fly fishing, doesn’t work super well on big rivers or ones that are too deep or too shallow. There’s a sweet spot that you have to figure out by working through a lot of different river scenarios and geologies, and the only way to get that experience is to visit a lot of rivers and amass a lot of good days and less good ones.

Here then, is a collection of photos of the rivers I visited, along with maps of the sections I fished marked with blue. I didn’t catch a lot of fish at the beginning of the year because I was such a rank amateur, so don’t assume that the rivers where I didn’t catch fish are devoid of trout.

Wild River
Wild River

Summary of Rivers, Brooks, and Streams

This is a complete list of the waterways I fished this year in New Hampshire. I have river reports for most of them below.

  1. Baker River – Rainbow
  2. Cold River – Brown
  3. Dry River
  4. East Branch Saco
  5. Ellis River – Brookies
  6. Hancock Branch
  7. Hubbard Brook
  8. Lost River
  9. Lucy Brook
  10. Mad River – Rainbow
  11. Moriah Brook
  12. Peabody River – Rainbow
  13. Pond Brook – Brookies
  14. Rocky Branch – Brook
  15. Saco River
  16. Sawyer River – Brookie
  17. Slippery Brook
  18. Swift River
  19. Wild Ammonoosuc
  20. Wild River

Every fish I’ve caught this year has been landed with a Tenkara style fly. I use more traditional flies too, but the reverse hackle Tenkara flies clearly worked the best.

Dry River, New Hampshire

This was one of the first rivers I fished in New Hampshire after taking my first and only Tenkara lesson and I didn’t catch a thing. I lost quite a few flies though, which got caught in the wood sticks between boulders in the river. Located in a Wilderness Area, river access is optimal, provided you’re prepared to do some bushwhacking along the stream bank. I’ll be back. No doubt about it. I think the best spots are way up near the Dry River Shelter and down below the suspension bridge, both accessible from the Dry River Trail. I also suspect the lower section will remain open in winter since the river is so big.

Landslides along the Dry River
Landslides along the Dry River
Near remaining Dry River Shelter
Upstream Near the Dry River Shelter
Lower section near suspension bridge looks like good fishing
Lower section near suspension bridge looks like good fishing
Tenkara on the Dry River
Tenkara on the Dry River

Lucy Brook, New Hampshire

Lucy Brook feeds into the Saco River at the top of a protected fly-fishing only section of the river (which in New Hampshire means you must have a reel), and I figured it might be holding trout. It’s a bony mountain stream, but there’s good water in places if you’re willing to whack about off-trail. The day I fished it, I was hiking the adjacent Attitash Trail up to Big Attitash Mountain, and I stopped at several of the pools along the trail to see if I could land any fish. I didn’t get a bite, but I did loose a lot of flies in the trees that day. If there’s one thing I learning about fishing mountain streams this year, it’s to look up before you cast, so you avoid tangling your line in the trees.

Upstream section of Lucy Brook
Upstream section of Lucy Brook
Lucy Brook Cascade
Lucy Brook Cascade

Fishing Lucy Brook

Saco River, New Hampshire

Multiple trips to the Saco, near Bartlett. I think most of the Saco is too big and too wide for Tenkara although there are a few upstream sections in Crawford Notch near the Dry River and Mt Willey where the river has a wilder, narrow feel. Above that, the Saco is illegal to fish up to its headwaters across from the Highland Center.

4th Iron Swimming Hole just below the Sawyer River-Saco River confluence
4th Iron Swimming Hole just below the Sawyer River-Saco River confluence
Good riffles above the pool
Good riffles above the pool
Saco River Sections
Saco River Sections

Sawyer River, New Hampshire

I caught my first New Hampshire trout on the lower Sawyer River, just above its confluence with the Saco. He was hiding along the bank under a big rock. I’ve been back to other sections of the Sawyer since then, but haven’t caught anything else, probably because I was splashing around in waders and scared the fish off. One of these days, I’ll bushwhack up the Sawyer from Rt 302 to the bridge at the upper end of Sawyer River Road. This will be a great Tenkara river when this years drought is over and water level is higher. It just has that feel.

Upper Sawyer River
Upper Sawyer River
Lower Down on the Sawyer
Lower Down on the Sawyer
Section near the Rt 302 bridge
Section near the Rt 302 bridge
Sawyer River Sections
Sawyer River Sections

Wild River, New Hampshire

I fished a few sections of the Wild River on my day off while working at Cold River Camp, but didn’t catch anything. I mainly fished between the Wild River Campground and the Black Angel Trail, but I like the look of the downstream section along the Highwater Trail a lot better. There are some really nice boulder gardens down there. The Wild is a long river. I plan to go back, but it will take many days to fish it.

Wild River
Wild River
Near the Black Angel River Crossing (Ford)
Near the Black Angel River Crossing (Ford)

Wild River Fishing

Moriah Brook

The Moriah Brook Trails connects the Carter Range to the Wild River Wilderness. It runs besides beautiful Moriah Brook with numerous swimming holes and cascades. I wanted to try fishing it because it is smaller than some of the rivers I’d visited so far and because I’ve found that smaller streams have been less affected by the drought this past year than the larger rivers.

I didn’t catch a thing on this trip either, although I did see a few fish in the brook. I think last year’s very harsh winter probably killed off a lot of the fish stock and that I need to be more stealthy in my approach than I was. The next time I go back, I’m tempted to fish the remote Moriah Brook Gorge, but that will be a serious bushwhack and I’ll need to allocate a day or two for it.

Moriah Brook
Moriah Brook
Pool mid-way down Moriah Brook
Pool mid-way down Moriah Brook
Just above the Moriah Brook Gorge
Just above the Moriah Brook Gorge
Moriah Brook Sections
Moriah Brook Sections

Peabody River, New Hampshire

West Peabody River, Dolly Copp Swimming Hole and Picnic Area
Peabody River, Dolly Copp Swimming Hole and Picnic Area

I got a little fishing in when my wife and I were car camping at Dolly Copp, near Mt Washington. I started by fishing the swimming hole area at the campground which has an attractive boulder garden, but I didn’t catch anything. I was still in my wader phase and probably scared all the fish into the next county. On subsequent days, I fished up and down the river a bit but still caught nothing. I’ve since given up on fishing swimming holes. The fish don’t hang out there…although there are a few exceptions. The same goes for waders. Thrashing around in the water drives the fish away. Stealth is required for Tenkara because you have such a short line.

RT 16 Swimming Hole - West Peabody
RT 16 Swimming Hole – Peabody River
Peabody River, above the Rt 16 swimming hole
Peabody River, above the Rt 16 swimming hole

My luck changed a few days later however when I fished another section of the Peabody, this time between the Rt 16 bridge and the swimming hole pictured above, just outside of Gorham. There’s a nice gradient between the bridge and the swimming hole, which I fished from the river side. I caught a rainbow there in a riffle next to a boulder. That was the turning point this year, when I figured out where fish hide in rivers and the kind of river features to fish to catch them.

This was the point where I also switched from a traditional Tenkara line to a high visibility flourocarbon line, which is much more sensitive for strike detection. I started catching a lot more fish after that. Night and day.

Ellis River, New Hampshire

I’ve fished the Ellis twice this year. On my first trip I caught two brookies at a picnic area pull off on Rt 16 near Spruce Mountain in Jackson. This section of the Ellis has lots of rocks, cascades, and pools and I caught the fish by casting stealthily from the side bank. I also visited the section below, which is also off a picnic area on Rt 16 near the AMC Visitors center in Pinkham Notch. It was October when I visited, so there was no one there. But it looks like a swimming hole which is probably why I didn’t catch anything…because fish don’t seem to hang out at swimming holes. The wild section upstream looks interesting though and I expect to head back to check it out.

Upper Ellis near old bidge abuttments
Upper Ellis near old bridge abutments
Ellis River Sections
Ellis River Sections

Pond Brook, New Hampshire

Had my best day so far on Pond Brook after hiking up Sandwich Dome, catching a half-dozen brook and browns in a few hours. There are a lot of spots I didn’t get to explore along this brook, especially some deep gorges that require bushwhacking since they diverge from the trail. Next time I visit, I’d like to spend a few days working the stream. It’s a perfect plunge pool style brook. The downstream section with the swimming holes was pretty barren though and best avoided.

Pond Brook - perfect conditions
Pond Brook – perfect conditions
Caught a trout along the left wall
Caught a trout along the left wall
Deep pool at the bottom of the Bennett St Trail
Deep pool at the bottom of the Bennett St Trail
Pond Brook Sections
Pond Brook Sections

Cold River, New Hampshire

I was driving down some of the back roads in the Sandwich area and stopped at a big gorge along the Cold River, parking illegally in at the swimming hole lot reserved for town residents and guests. River access is a real issue along the Cold River because of private property, so I doubt I’ll go back, but that gorge was a lot of fun to fish,

Brown Trout caught on the Cold River
Brown Trout caught on the Cold River
Cold River Swimming Hole
Cold River Swimming Hole
Cold River Gorge
Cold River Gorge

Rocky Branch, New Hampshire

I hiked up Jericho Rd and fished a section of the Rocky Branch (River), near the Rocky Branch #2 Shelter, which the Forest Service plans to dismantle. Beautiful plunge pool style river, but the water was crushingly low. I caught a small brook trout who spit out my fly repeatedly, but I finally got him after multiple casts. No other bites. I wish this river had water. What a sight it would be!

Rocky Branch Brook Trout
Rocky Branch Brook Trout
Rocky Branch Tenkara
Rocky Branch Tenkara
Rocky Branch below East Stairs Mtn
Rocky Branch below East Stairs Mtn
Rocky Branch - A Big Pool
Rocky Branch – A Big Pool
Rocky Branch - Really Low Flow
Rocky Branch – Really Low Flow

Hubbard Brook, New Hampshire

I stayed behind after we bushwhacked Mt Kineo and camped out, before driving down the road a short distance to the first big bridge which crosses Hubbard Brook. There are campsites along the road, for future reference. I pulled into one and then fished the river south of the bridge for about a mile. It was running really low. Pretty stream though. There’s a fisherman’s path along the east side which I followed, with easy access to the riverbank. This whole area is in the Hubbard Experimental Forest so there are no river access issues.

This would be really nice stream with more water in it, probably a combination of runs and plunge pools. There’s a noticeable gradient too. I didn’t catch anything, but I did see a trout in a plunge pool, so there are fish here.

Hubbard Brook
Hubbard Brook
Hubbard Brook, outside of Thornton,NH
Hubbard Brook, outside of Thornton,NH
Very clear water in Hubbard Brook
Very clear water in Hubbard Brook

Smarts Brook, New Hampshire

Smarts Brook is a beautiful high gradient stream in the Sandwich Range. I fished about a mile of it but didn’t catch anything. Again, the water was very low and it just wasn’t deep enough to hold fish. It’s probably fantastic in better years. The lower section looks like a very popular swimming hole spot, which is too bad, because the geology would be perfect for Tenkara. Still, hiking up stream is probably worth it.

Smarts Brook
Smarts Brook
Deep Pool, but no bites
Deep Pool, but no bites
Pretty sequence of cascades
Pretty sequence of cascades
Smarts Brook Sections
Smarts Brook Sections

Mad River, New Hampshire

The Mad is one of the biggest rivers I’ve fished this year, even though it was running quite low due to the drought. The section I fished (a mile or two east and west of the Smart Brook Trailhead on Rt 25) had a sandy bottom, very different from the smaller plunge pool brooks and streams I try to fish. It was also significantly wider, so I couldn’t cast to the far shore, where all the fish were hiding.

Mad River below Welch Mountain
Mad River below Welch Mountain

I caught a nice rainbow in a run just below the confluence of Smart Brook and the Mad using a Tenkara fly. I’ve had really good luck fishing at confluences. I suspect trout like them because there’s more food flowing by when two rivers join up. I also drove up the road a ways and stopped at two other spots with picnic table pullovers. Nothing there: no bites or sightings although the geology was right with plunge pools and runs.

Mad River - at a picnic pulloff
Mad River – at a picnic pull off

River access is pretty good along the highway and I want to go back and spend a lot more time working my way along the river bank (full of boulders) in the future. I imagine this river probably stays open through much of winter and that it takes on more of a plunge pool character when the water level is higher.

Mad River Tenkara
Mad River Tenkara

Baker River, New Hampshire

Stopped off at a section of the Baker on the way back from hiking Black Mountain in Benton. The river is hard to access because of private property along the banks. Most of the river is a slow meandering stream, at least what I could see from the car. I did find one excellent run below the State Fish Hatchery next to a boating ramp, where I caught a huge rainbow. Biggest fish I’ve ever hooked.

Baker River nr Wentworth, NH
Baker River nr Wentworth, NH

He spit out my fly a half dozen ties before I hooked him. I fished the biggest pour-over I could reach from the river bank and caught him in about a foot of water. I didn’t catch anything else at that spot because the river was too low, but it did look like you could put on a pair of waders and fish a nice 200 yard section up from that point. There’s also an ATV trail that runs alongside the river there, which may provide access.

Wild Ammonoosuc River, New Hampshire

The Wild Ammonoosuc River flows from Mt Moosilauke to the Vermont border (and probably beyond). It’s a big river but there are some rockier sections that look like they’d be good for Tenkara, including gorges and boulder gardens. Historically, the river is known to hold gold and people still pan for it there.

Wild Amonoosuc River above the damn
Wild Ammonoosuc River above the damn
Higher upriver near Kinsman Notch
Higher upriver near Kinsman Notch

When I visited, the river was running really low. But I fished it near a flood control damn that had a big waterfall as well as some downstream ledges. I also drove back up to Moosilauke and Kinsman Notch to fish it where it’s a small stream. It just needs more water. No, I didn’t catch a thing. But I know there are trout in it.

Fishing on the Wild Amonoosuc
Fishing on the Wild Ammonoosuc

Lost River, New Hampshire

The Lost River Flows from Kinsman Notch west, down to North Woodstock. It’s the quintessential mountain stream with a steep gradient, numerous gorges and plunge pools. I sampled some or the swimming hole pull-offs on Rt 112 and didn’t catch a thing. I suspect it’s because many of places I stopped are swimming holes in warmer weather and the fish avoid them. It’s still worth going back though in warmer weather, even just to swim. :-) My wife would love these swimming holes!

Lost River, nr the Rt118 junction
Lost River, nr the Rt118 junction
Lost River Sections
Lost River Sections

Slippery Brook and the East Branch Saco

I spend two days fishing Slippery Brook and the East Branch of the Saco, two streams with stellar trout reputations, but came up empty handed, without any bites even. We still haven’t had any appreciable rain and they’re running really low. I’ve pretty much decided to throw in the Tenkara towel for the rest of the season, until we get a significant amount of rain and the rivers rise. At this point, I might just have to wait until the spring thaw to fish again….Both are beautiful rivers though, and I expect to head out their way again.

Slippery Brook Cascade
Slippery Brook Cascade
East Branch Saco
East Branch Saco
Newly repaired road (post Irene) - East Branch Saco
Newly repaired road (post Irene) – East Branch Saco
East Branch Saco and Slippery Brook Sections
East Branch Saco and Slippery Brook Sections

12 comments

  1. I am SO jealous! Really. Good for you…you took responsibility for your own fishing education and it looks like you are well on the way to being “hooked”

  2. You’re catching good fish in tough water! (But the Rocky Branch fish is a brook trout. Do a quick edit before anybody notices.)

  3. You caught a brown trout on the Cold River though. Browns are tough, at least they are for me. Congrats.

  4. Great write up! I’ve fished many of those spots with a regular fly rod. Regarding the swimming holes, I’ve usually seen fish if I swim with a mask, but they stay as deep as they can and still be in a current. (Check out the pool under the covered bridge at the beginning of West Side Road in summer) How deep can you get the fly down with the Tenkara set up?

  5. I just found this form of fly fishing myself so I am excited to try it. Seems like you enjoyed the year so even though you didn’t always find fish you seemed to have a nice time. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I read your comment about the Saco River being too wide. I have fished rivers like that out west, but, the way you approach it is different. In Japan those types of river are considered “Honryu” or in English “mainstream”. Longer rods and longer lines are necessary in those rivers as well as a stouter rod to handle the bigger fish which reside there. I normally fish a 4 meter rod with an equal length line if I’m on larger waters. Also, you’ll need some weight to get the fly down to the fish if they are holding in deeper water. It can be done! Another method for fishing these rivers is with a Keiryu rod of 4 meters or greater. The limitation of a Tenkara rod when fishing deeper areas is the rod is soft and sometimes this makes it difficult to set the hook. A Keiryu rod has more backbone and can set hooks that are deep in the water column.

    • That makes perfect sense. I’m doing a little experimenting this winter with tying heavier flies with wire sewn into them, although using some weights is also an option. I’m not quite sure that I’m ready to invest in a heavier or longer rod yet. I like the little rivers and stream for their intimacy, but I may also become frustrated and fish the bigger rivers since they are so easy to reach. Thanks for the advice!

  7. FYI

    You shouldn’t post the names of small headwater streams with native brookies online. They are sensitive to overfishing and more people will be likely to fish them if they see your post. Of course, the well known ones such as the Saco and Ellis are no issue. Also, best to not put the trout on a rock as it can damage the slime layer and decrease chances of survival upon release.

    Tight lines

    • Perhaps you should contact Fish and Game and Delorme and have them stop printing this information online and in print form also. They have a much wider circulation than my tiny blog. I understand where you’re coming from, but its incredibly rare that I ever see anyone fishing on these streams and I think your fears are misplaced.

      • It takes a certain mindset and dedication to get into those headwaters areas. I don’t think the fishing pressure is going to increase based on your blog because quite frankly, this is a hiking/backpacking blog. A person who is seriously into Tenkara is already looking for the smaller, headwater areas and can find these secluded streams with ease. Info can be gleaned from FB and Tenkara forums as well. Care should be exercised of course when handling caught fish but in the photo, at least the fish doesn’t appear to be on dry rocks. I leave mine in the net, in the water when taking pics.

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