“I can’t imagine any fisherman hiking five miles to fish here,” said the fisherman I met at Flat Mountain Pond in the Sandwich Wilderness. Ironically, he and his buddies were the only people I encountered on a backpacking, packrafting, and fishing trip I took to this epic backcountry pond at the foot of Whiteface Mountain. Despite their presence, it’s true. You’d have to be high energy or half-mad to hike in here to go fishing, even though it’s one of the best backcountry trout ponds in the White Mountains.
This was my second trip to Flat Mountain Pond, a mile-long pond nestled between North Flat Mountain and South Flat Mountain in the southern section of the White Mountain National Forest. My first trip here had been last April, when my friend Chris and I bushwhacked the south and north peaks and camped out overnight to soak in the atmosphere. We hiked out along the western half of the Flat Mountain Pond Trail which runs along Pond Brook, one of my favorite Tenkara Fly Fishing Stream in the Whites.
Flat Mountain Pond is so beautiful that I set my heart on returning this year for a second visit, hiking in from a different direction, following the Flat Mountain Pond Trail west along the Whiteface River which drains the watershed southeast of the pond. This turned out to be quite an obscure and hard-to-follow route, necessitating bushwhacking on the hike in and out when I lost the trail. Forget blazes. It looks like it’s been some time since this 5.3 mile section of trail has received a trail maintenance visit.
My goal on this trip was to do some backcountry fly fishing and nature viewing from a Supai Adventure Gear Matkat packraft which I carried in my backpack along with an Supai Olo Lightweight paddle, a 13 ounce MTI Journey PFD, and two Tenkara fishing rods. I wanted to explore the perimeter of the pond which is difficult to access on foot and try my luck at landing some bigger fish in the “deep end of the pool.” I also hoped for a moose sighting along the shore.
I didn’t see anyone on the four-hour hike into the shelter, which is at the west end of the pond, and proceeded to set up my hammock. The four fishermen arrived a few minutes later and started fishing nearby with worms and nite crawlers, catching all the big fish nearby. I was envious. While fishing with live bait is a lot less nuanced than fly fishing with an artificial hand-tied lure, it does produce results.
I got my revenge hehehe, when I inflated my packraft and paddled out from the shore, illustrating my intention to out-fish them. I could paddle out to where the fish were rising off shore and along the remote shoreline, indicated by the splashes and ripples of their jumps.
Pond fishing is very different from stream fishing and requires much greater patience. While Flat Mountain Pond is stocked by New Hampshire Fish and Game, the water is warmer and less aerated than in streams, so fish tend to be far more sluggish. The best time to fish is the two hours before sundown when the fish come to the surface to feed on insects.
I still caught my fair share of trout and I think perch (species identification is not my strong suit), but I didn’t score any really big trout as I’d hoped. I had some issues with stealth in the packraft which got blown around by the wind that races down the narrow long pond. It’s hard to be stealthy when trying to paddle with one hand while using your other to hold a fly rod. However, I managed to mitigate the wind somewhat but paddling into coves along the pond edge and sheltering behind trees, but couldn’t really fish the unprotected areas of the pond successfully.
This is the second backpacking, packrafting, and fly fishing trip I’ve taken in recent weeks where the wind has vexed me. I’ve been looking at various anchor options and using a drift anchor (also called a drift sock) looks like the best and lightest weight backpacking solution since the water acts as its own brake, slowing your drift, while not holding you completely stationary. Other commercial alternatives involve using a 1.5 pound metal anchor, float, and line, which is a bit more than I want to carry for backpacking use. Using a drift anchor or drift sock does require a proper attachment point on a packraft however, a worthwhile consideration if you plan on fishing from a packraft.
Fighting the wind got old after a while, so I paddled back to my campsite and fished from the banks for the duration of the day. I’ve been experimenting this year with long line Tenkara, fishing with lines that are 20′-30′ feet in length so I can fish bigger rivers and ponds. If you believe that Tenkara fly fishing is limited to small mountain streams, think again.
Then I ate a relaxing dinner and watched as a beaver tried to intimidate me with a territorial display, by cruising the pond back and forth in front of my camp site and slapping his tail against the water. I had another beaver display identical behavior on a previous packrafting trip this season at Upper Greeley Pond. Curious, because neither pond had a visible lodge and I’ve never experienced this kind of behavior when camping at a beaver pond before.
That night I went to sleep with the sunset as a cool breeze swept over the lake. I really enjoy camping with my Warbonnet Hammock, even in summer. It’s heavier than a tent or tarp, but the added comfort is so worth it.
After fishing on the pond before breakfast, I broke camp and headed back the way I’d hiked in, intent on fishing the Whiteface River on the way out. This is no tame river, but a mountain stream full of huge boulders, drops, and pools that’s ideal for short line Tenkara. I love fishing rivers like this because it’s a puzzle to dissect their flows and figure out the best places for trout to hide.
I got lost again on the hike out, in a different place, and had to bushwhack back to the trail. You never know when you’ll need those map and compass skills in the White Mountains, but I’ve come to expect hard-to-follow trails in some of the more obscure regions of the forest and don’t mind the extra challenge one bit.
Total Distance: 11 miles with approximately 2000′ of elevation gain.
Disclosure: Supai Adventure Gear provided Philip Werner with a Matkat and Lightweight paddle for reviews, which will be published later this summer. All other products mentioned were purchased by Philip Werner using his own funds.