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In Search of Trout Water on Flat Pond Brook

Tenkara Fly Fishing along the lower Sawyer River, White Mountains
Tenkara Fly Fishing in the White Mountains

If you were a trout, you’d know that the current or water speed of a stream or river is not uniform as it flows downstream. Bends in the river, rocks, drops, and depressions in the stream bottom create micro-currents which can be faster or slower than the main flow, and in some cases even cause water to flow back upstream, which is what occurs in an eddy.

Trout like to hide in the slower parts of a river, camouflaged by the darkness of a pool or under the cover of frothy whitewater riffles that prevent predators from seeing them from above. Lurking in pockets of slower current, they lie in wait for food to float by them, often positioning themselves on the boundary with faster current, because there’s more food floating by them which they can snatch out of the water.

My goal this past week has been to find good trout water which not only held trout, but was also fishable with waders, deep enough without being too deep, and relatively free of overhead obstructions. In the long term, I’d rather not become too dependent on waders because they’re too heavy to carry on a backpacking trip, but I wanted to spend more time this week walking up a stream in search of trout rather than side casting, which I think leads to more fly snags between rocks (and lost flies).

Pond Brook
Pond Brook

Pond Brook

Pond Brook is located in the Sandwich Range of the White Mountains, close to the smaller peaks on the north side of Squam Lake. It runs alongside the Flat Mountain and Bennett St Trails which provide excellent access to the river without much effort. Pond Brook drains Flat Mountain Pond, which is stocked by New Hampshire Fish and Game and the brook is marked in Delorme’s New Hampshire Gazetteer as holding fish.

I spent a few hours fishing the lower part of the stream near the Flat Mountain Pond Trail Trailhead, which is at the end of a rutted gravel road in the middle of nowhere, near Sandwich, New Hampshire. The conditions were perfect for fly fishing with overcast skies and the water in the stream was cold enough to warrant wearing waders.

Pond Brook is the smallest stream I’ve fished so far and it matches the types of streams I’d like to come across and fish on backcountry trips, with lots of river features including pools, drops, and riffles densely packed together. I didn’t catch a damn thing on this outing, but I got to practice a lot of front casting and accurately placing the fly exactly where I want it in the stream.

The number of flies I’m losing has also dropped because I’m more conscious of overhead trees and because I’ve started casting more frequently and letting my line drift for shorter distance, where it’s less likely to get snagged between rocks.

There are larger pools and drops higher upstream on Pond Brook
There are larger pools and drops higher upstream on Pond Brook

Wearing waders also lets me go after snags and retrieve them instead breaking the tippet and losing a fly. In the process, I’ve discovered that a lot of my snags are due to tiny branches caught between rocks instead of the rocks themselves. Useful to know.

When I fished Pond Brook, it was clear that the river is visited by other fisherman. You can tell by the paths from the parking lot to the river and along the river bank. Based on the traffic, I have to assume that there are fish in the stream and that I just haven’t figured out where they lie yet.

In the coming weeks, I’m going to switch from concentrating on riffles in rivers where trout lurk under white water, to more pools, undercut rocks, and eddies.

I feel like I have the mechanics of fishing form and equipment sorted out, now the challenge is to find trout water.

Postscript: I caught nine fish at a local pond the other day. They weren’t trout, but I could see big trout swimming around my legs in the clear water. That’s why I’m confident that I have the mechanics of fly fishing down and it’s just a matter of time before I find out where they live in mountain streams.

23 comments

  1. That’s why they call the sport “fishing” and not “catching”.

  2. As a child watching my Dad fishing in many of the “Kills” in New York State that fed into the Hudson River I was always amazed how many Trout Dad would catch and release out of a little stream like this one..Just amazes me still fish actually live in them as such. One of my own favorite stories from years later when I was about 12 was fishing an unnamed Stream that fed into Long Pond in the Adirondacks on our yearly trek to the Mountains for a month of tent camping, fishing, and berry picking. At the point where the stream flowed into the Pond was a large pile of logs which washed down from the surrounding hills over time. Underneath those logs my brothers and I could see over half a dozen good sized Trout just lazing about reaching up now an then to snag a tender morsel as it floated by but would not touch anything we presented to them… On occasion for no apparent reason they would suddenly bust out from under the logs an dash downstream to where we would lose sight of them in the deeper pools. Worms, Flies, Grubs, Mepps, nothing worked. I had been chewing on a piece of Double Bubble over a couple of hours and took it out wrapped in a leaf and stuck the wad into my pocket for use later when the idea came to me… I took it back out and bit off a small piece and wrapped it around a bare hook with a very small red and white bobber about two feet above the hook and cast it out and let the current grab it an take it over one the pools about 20 feet away. Wap!, and the fight was on..I caught three 12 inchers by the time my brothers came back having lost interest and who moved on to the pond. We then fought over what was left of my bubble gum but the magic was gone!

  3. Fsh that reside in waters closest to the roads are very snobby! I fly fish in the high Sierra. Based on my experience, the heavier the fishing pressure, the harder it is to catch them. The fish learn, so the fisherman has to be perfect on the presentation and match exactly what they are hungry for. In the backcountry, they have not seen it all and are much more curious to at least look at the fly.

    • I was out yesterday in perfect trout water and caught zip again. I tried experimenting with different flies based on the bugs that were present, and I’ve gotten MUCH better on presentation in the past weeks, but zip. Honestly, the only wild fish I’ve caught in a stream was caught with a Tenkara fly (which mimics no bug) and I’m wondering if I should start fishing those again. Perhaps rainbows go for them since they are so novel.

  4. Philip, catching fish is a pain in those small creeks, at those water levels. Always check to be sure you are NOT casting any shadow on the water. Even obscured sky, not just sunlite, can make a fish wary. Stick to the sides of the stream and with the sun in your face. Not the easiest casting position.

    The slightest “crunch” in the water can be heard by fish for well beyond casting distance. Stay out of the water, if possible. Don’t tramp up to a stream and cast. Go slow, choose your steps carefully not to cause any noise. In clear water, such as your pic shows, I usually find a larger hole, and fish deep. They may rest in current/pockets, but don’t feed well. They usually find deeper water to lay in, that provides some protection. I would guess, two feet or more. Skip the shallow spots less than that.

    Use small flies and light leaders. This will allow you to get to the fish without lining him (scaring him with the fishing line.) Never cast directly OVER a pocket, rather cast well above and let it drift in. You have to figure the current flow, etc. to make this work. That’s your job as a fisherman. Mending, roll cast’s, overcast & drag are all tricks to keep a fly on target. If it takes over 5 seconds to fall into a pocket, you probably are dragging the fly, fish want a dead drift. Or, switch to a traditional wet fly, meant to be fished with some drag (across and down.)

    Tenkara flies just look buggy. That is what you want under those conditions. There is likely not a huge hatch going on, just a few flies coming off that may be a mixed bag. Just use something one or two sizes smaller than apparent, and, a “buggy” or searching pattern. Likely, even then, you might catch small fish. But, a few 6-7″ trout is breakfast or lunch.

  5. A stick of dynamite weighs less than a pair of waders…

  6. Philip, judging from the photos, you’re fishing one of the more challenging forms of trout water–small, often shallow mountain streams with water rushing from plunge pool to plunge pool. You should focus on stealth–getting close enough to make your casts with as little splash, shadow, or other trout-disturbing movement. Fewer casts, but more planning on how to make them.

    Are you tying your own flies yet? Tenkara-style flies are fairly easy to tie and you don’t need myriad materials to fashion several good patterns.

  7. Looks challenging yes, the water is rushing about on your photos

  8. The small streams of the White Mtns are very unproductive so trout populations are low. The fish spook easily this time of year and the trout mostly feed at dawn & dusk. Using Tenkara style means you will more than likely scare the educated fish this time of year unless you wear drab / camo, walk softly and stay low, especially in full light.

    Try the Contoocook River in the rapids sections. It’s much more forgiving, there is lots of food and the water is slightly discolored or at least it was back 30 years ago when I used to fish it regularly. The fish are stockies so they are not real bright but you will learn more if you catch fish and cast to risers.

  9. BTW, Green Mtns & Berkshire headwaters have many more brook trout – the difference between limestone / marble there and the granite of the Whites. Acid rain makes it worse by decreasing productivity even more although it’s not quite the complete train wreck it’s made out to be.

    • It’s where I hike, so I’m not going to totally give up in the Whites. I don’t go west to the Berkies or Vermont much anymore,although I get out there a few times a year. Maybe I should visit more ponds…..

  10. Thanks for your articles in your tenkara experience.

    Reading your first post made me think about how I loved regular fly fishing (I haven’t fly fished since 2000 and hardly fly fished before that since 1992).
    The next thing I know I am digging out my old equipment, also finding a leaky pair of waders I thought I had tossed out years ago.Then I am in my grandsons’ 3-1/2 foot deep pool finding the leaks and repairing them. Two days later I am out on the local river catching trout. I realize I have been hooked worse than the fish!
    After that, I dig out my old fly tying gear and supplies and start tying again.I am nowhere near as good as I used to be but I am getting much better at a quicker pace then when I first learned.
    Fathers day found me walking out of Cabelas with a new pair of stocking foot waders and wading boots.Took them out yesterday and…. what a difference from my old wader system. Now I need to upgrade my rod and line, get some more tying supplies and I am my way again. I forgot how much fun I had and how the tying became a form of artistic expression.
    Thank you again for bringing it all back again. I fondly remember fishing the Swift, Pemi and the Peabody river along with some of the smaller streams while backpacking.

    Oh and as Fred Trout states the Contoocook in the Peterborough/ Jaffery area has some great spots and some nice tributaries that we would get larger than normal natives on years ago. Water levels are getting lower ( little high right now after Sundays deluge but that drops fairly quickly) and the water is warming but there is still time for some decent fishing and practice,

  11. I got a tenkara last year for xmas and I like reading your articles about it. Haven’t tried it on streams yet just ponds and lakes. My first and only fish on it so far is a 2″ golden shiner I caught by accident on my backcast and sent for a ride without realizing. I gravitate toward bass in general, much easier on your mental health than trout and way easier to release.

    One question, how do you store your line? I spin mine around the rod which is not ideal and creates spirals. No way I am restringing every time I use it…

  12. For me anyway my success has always been matching the fly with whatever is hatching, rising or buzzing about on the day. I’ll take a small net with me and scoop through the water, gravel and see what I find moving about in the water.

    I do love fishing small streams and brooks though because you never know what you find lurking in small pools or white stretches.
    Some of the other comments mention that you need to watch your shadow etc.. I apply my stealth Ninja tactics when scoping out a stream and more often than not will fish from the edge instead of wading into the flow. Sure you get more snags and loose a lot more tackle but there is much less of a chance of spooking the fish. I will often check out a river one day, make note of a few good spots and head back another day to actually fish it – doesn’t matter if you spook the fish on day 1.
    From a tackle point of view I have tried everything. Fancy tippets, backing, you name it. When I fish overgrown rivers and streams I go back to basics because I tend to loose a fair bit to the trees and rocks. A simple 3 or 4 pound leader tied directly to the fly-line and a single dry or wet fly on the tip. The purists will say this is wrong but hey it works for me and saves a few bucks when you catch a tree and loose everything.
    A dry fly cast to the intersection between flat calm water and a fast moving bit always deliver results but have to admit there are some days that no matter what you try you end up going home without a single take but you have to remember Trout are quite a fussy fish…

    Cheers and happy fishing

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