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Bikepacking and Bikefishing the Swift Diamond River

Bikepacking in the 2nd College Grant owned by Dartmouth College
Bikepacking with backpacking and fly fishing gear on a 30-speed gravel bike.

My buddy Ken and I took a three day bikepacking and bikefishing trip into a conservation area called the Second College Grant in Northern New Hampshire, about 65 miles north of the White Mountain National Forest. It has two excellent trout rivers in it full of native brook trout, the Dead Diamond and Swift Diamond Rivers, which we fly fished during a three day backcountry trip.

This area has a number of gravel topped logging roads that run through it, but is gated to vehicular access. It is open to the public as long as you hike or bike in. Catch and release fly fishing is permitted with barbless hooks, along with hunting (New Hampshire licenses are still required). It’s a hidden gem, way off the beaten path, and one I only discovered last autumn.

Fishing conditions on the Swift Diamond River were fabulous with continuous trout habitat
Fishing conditions on the Swift Diamond River were fabulous with continuous trout habitat for miles.

We spent most of our time fishing the Swift Diamond River on this trip. It’s about 3-4 miles in from the gate off Rt 16. The water is crystal clear, the river has a gentle gradient and is full of boulders, providing excellent habitat for brook trout. The fishing is nearly continuous as you walk up the river, casting from the side or wading to get closer to the center or far edge. There’s enough quick-water to oxygenate the water for the trout, with long rock-filled runs, eddy lines, and shallow drops to fish.

This was Ken’s first Tenkara fly fishing trip, but I knew he’d grasp the basics quickly since he’s fly fished before with a reel. He’s a very experienced outdoorsman: an hiker, backpacker, climber, cyclist, and a professional mountaineering guide for Redline Guiding in the White Mountains. We met years ago on a long winter hike and have shared many adventures since then.

Ken rode a fat tire mountain bike on this trip, while I opted for a gravel bike
Ken rode a fat tire mountain bike on this trip, while I opted for a gravel bike.

It was also our first bikepacking trip together, an offshoot of backpacking that combines off-road cycling and ultralight backpacking. Instead of hiking to exotic locations, you bike on gravel roads maintained by the forest service, private logging company roads, or state maintained ATV trails in backcountry areas that don’t have hiking trail access. We have a lot of areas like this in northern New Hampshire and throughout Maine that I’ve always wanted to explore. Doing it on a bike means you can go farther and faster than on foot and that you can ride up gated roads that are inaccessible to motor vehicles.

Since you’re carrying your gear on a bike, you want it to be as compact and lightweight as possible. In fact, the only thing really difference between ultralight backpacking and ultralight bikepacking is that you walk in one and ride in the other. Most of the other skills like camping, cooking, navigation, thermoregulation, etc. are nearly identical, with the exception of emergency bike maintenance, like flat fixing.

Native brook trout caught with a Stewart's Spider
Native brook trout caught with a Stewart Spider.

I think we were both a bit shocked by how relaxing this trip was. We rode our bikes a bit, but mostly fished and fished some more. We caught most of our fish in the morning using black colored flies. I caught six brookies one morning, all on a Stewart Spider, and stuck with that most of the trip. It’s a non-representational pattern tied with a Starling feather, that I started tying this spring. Ken was also successful, landing a few brookies of his own on his Tenkara rod.

One thing we tried on this trip, was to bring waders, something I normally don’t do when fishing with a Tenkara rod. I’m glad I did though, because the Dead Diamond and Swift Diamond are both wide enough, that wading provided much needed added reach into the fishing lanes.

I wasn’t able to locate a current map for the area, except for the USGS maps on Caltopo and Gaia, which I suspect are at least 30 years out of date. Dartmouth College manages the area, but publishes very little information about it. The area is well signed however and you can easily backtrack if you use an app like Gaia to track your route. The roads are gravel and reasonably well maintained, but when riding, you do need to keep your eyes on the surface in front of you to avoid rocks sticking up out of the surface. There are also a few hills, but they’re well graded and relatively easy to climb.

Outrunning a pending thunderstorm - bridge over the Dead Diamond River, NH
Outrunning a pending thunderstorm – bridge over the Dead Diamond River

This was a wonderful fishing trip and great dress rehearsal for a much longer bikepacking and bikefishing trip we have planned for later in the summer, near the Canadian Border in Northern New Hampshire. That area doesn’t have the much hiking access, but it does have hundreds of miles of gravel roads and some of the best trout fishing in New England.

Written 2017.

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  1. Very very cool .


  2. Looks great. How did the gravel bike do vs the fat bike?

    • The fat bike took a lot more effort to pedal because it has wider tires and is heavy as hell, but is much better at absorbing “shocks”, so you can ride down a rough gravel road at speed without worrying too much about rocks sticking out of the surface.

      The gravel bike is lighter and requires less effort to ride (or push up hills), but still needs to be babied on rougher gravel surfaces that have big rocks poking out of it.

      I’m still sold on using the gravel bikes for trips like this, but I’ll probably pick up a fat tire bike at some point for winter riding.

  3. That looks like a great deal of fun. I need to explore this in my area!

  4. What a great trip that must have been!! I looked at the Tenkara website and I’m hooked, so to speak.

    Easy, lightweight, little gear to carry. I think I’ll be adding bikepacking/fishing in NH to my bucket list when I retire. :-)

    I love hiking but a bike? Yes!!

  5. Phil, it’s interesting to see more pictures of bikes on your blog… I’ve been wanting to get into dirt-packed/gravel road riding myself. Care to do a post about how you like your bike? It’s REI’s ADV3.1, right? I’ve been eyeing that vs. Salsa Vaya/Kona Sutra

    • I don’t consider myself a bike expert (yet), but my friend Ken was impressed and he owns six road and mountain bikes. The ADV 3.1 is pretty nice.
      It has disk brakes, 40mm tires, and good components. I actually bought a Cannondale 27″ hardtail first, but decided I didn’t really like it that much. Actually, I decided I didn’t like mountain biking trails as much as I did gravel roads (not as hard for an old guy like me). The nice thing about buying from REI rather than your LBS is that you can return bikes within six months, no questions asked, and get full credit for them. I took advantage of that. Of course they also sell Salsa bikes and other brands.
      I’ll do a more detailed review at some point.

  6. great trip report Philip. how were the bugs, were extreme defensive measures necessary? i’ve got some WMNF trips in the next few weeks and insects are always on my mind (but hopefully not on me!). i assume that with the exception of trekking poles your gear list is unchanged from other summer trips.

    • They were insatiable, especially the mosquitos. That’s why we’re wearing pants, not bike shorts. We would have been eaten alive. Yes, my summer gear list is pretty much the same, except for the wading pants and sandals that we brought on this trip. About 3 more pounds than normal.

  7. I rode up there some years ago, went out to see the hells gate on the dead diamond
    river log drives though it gave it its name.
    If you do a lot of biking up that way look for a book called Mt. bike Steve’s wilderness treks


    I hunted and fished there 45 years ago. I stayed in a loggers camp. # 8 is it still there. I want to come back and fish again.

  9. Thanks for the writeup – were you able to camp on the 2nd College Grant?

  10. Hi, on fly fishing only waters in NH Tenkara actually isn’t allowed. By NH Fish and Game regs they state “Tenkara cannot be used in “fly fishing only” waters because fly fishing is defined as “fishing by trolling or casting with only fly rod, fly reel, and fly line combination”. The same goes for Maine waters with both Tenkara and Euro numphing. Euro nymphing in Maine is due to the added definition of fly fishing that “Casting upon water and retrieving in a manner in which the weight of the fly line propels the fly”. With Euro nymphing the weight of the fly is what propels the line. Sounds like an awesome trip but I encourage you to do a lot more research before you venture out to make sure you are doing things legally!

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