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.
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.
- Baker River – Rainbow
- Cold River – Brown
- Dry River
- East Branch Saco
- Ellis River – Brookies
- Hancock Branch
- Hubbard Brook
- Lost River
- Lucy Brook
- Mad River – Rainbow
- Moriah Brook
- Peabody River – Rainbow
- Pond Brook – Brookies
- Rocky Branch – Brook
- Saco River
- Sawyer River – Brookie
- Slippery Brook
- Swift River
- Wild Ammonoosuc
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Peabody River, New Hampshire
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.
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.
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.
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,
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.