14 June, 2011

In them thar hills

I have lived in Massachusetts for ~4 years and have landed a single salmonid in that time. This year, in particular, I have been fishing more regularly. And I have done well finding and catching centrachids and cyprininds, but I have yet to find "quality" trout water. 

Earlier this season, I spent my birthday on what was supposed to be a fine trout stream. My intel indicated that the stream was loaded with wild Salmo trutta and Salvelinus fontinalis. However, and try as I might, I was unable to fool any of the salmonid denizens of this pretty little blue line stream. I simply wrote it off as too early and vowed to return in warmer times. 

So, as you can see, my quest for trout--up to this point--in my new home state has been pretty underwhelming. To remedy this, I gathered all of my best google research skills and hunkered down with my copy of An Anglers Guide to Trout Fishing in Massachusetts and began the process of ranking and (hopefully) finding the streams within 1.5 hours of home base that provide good trout fishing. My algorithm, to be revealed at a later date, concluded that I must return too the Quinapoxet and that the Millers River near Athol, MA should provide quality trout fishing opportunities. 

During my recent (and first) trip to the Millers I arrived early, around 8 A.M, and at first glance I noticed a very thick cloud of brown caddis hovering over the bridge near the parking lot. I could barely contain my enthusiasm. And the river itself was...big; much bigger than this Southern Appalachian fly fisher is used to. Full of pocket water, deep pools, boulders, slicks, glides...damn straight....at this point I thought that I had made a good decision.

I suited up and started hiking downstream to one of the catch and release sections of the river. Almost immediately I passed a near picture perfect run; over 50 feet long with the perfect water velocity. I couldn't resist, this piece of water just had to hold a few nice trout. Waded in and began working my way up to the head of the run where a riffle emptied in. And I worked that water well, even switching flies . nada. I told myself that the fishing would be better in the C & R downstream. 

Well, it is a nice looking stream. But the trout never showed themselves. I spent the better part of 4 hours hiking and fishing the first 1.5 miles of the upper C & R section. Saw some great water but never felt so much as a bump and saw no sign of fish, trout or otherwise. I was very surprised that I didn't see any Micropterus dolomieu; the water temperature and habitat were perfect.

A beautiful run on the Millers River
Yeah, the water temperature was a little high for what I would consider quality trout water. And this early in the summer too (Last week of May); I may have some doubts about the potential of this river. My research revealed that many consider the Millers to be "Blue Ribbon" trout water. Habitat-wise I would agree, but the temperatures I saw could limit survival over the summer. For now I will forgo conclusion on this river's potential and revisit this stream in the future before passing final judgement.

Cold, clear tributary of the Millers

Still, I did happen to get a good look at, and briefly fish, a fantastic little tributary stream of the Millers. I spooked at least 2 Salmoniform fishes and was very impressed with the overall quality of this little feeder stream. Cold and clear with gravel substrate and plenty of stream-side cover. I only wish that it was not the height of black fly and mosquito season. I think I might have lost a quart or more of blood before running full speed, hands and arms flailing wildly, through the forest and into the middle of Millers to escape those little vampires. Perhaps the full potential of the Millers depends upon these tributaries; definitely encouraging to find this one in such great shape.

So no fish in the Millers; plan B was then enacted. I decided to revisit the Quinapoxet and pointed the Element east into the noon-day sun. I had lunch on the way and arrived in the little town of Oakdale around 1 P.M. Now, the only trout that I have ever landed in MA came from the Stillwater River; this stream and the Quinapoxet are both direct tributaries to the Wachuset Reservoir in Oakdale. Having been previously skunked on the Quinapoxet and batting a thousand on the Stillwater, I naturally decided to have a quick look at the Stillwater.

The Swift didn't disappoint, but I also didn't catch any trout either. I managed to land Lepomis macrochirus and Ambloplites rupestris. The latter species was a big and welcome surprise; I was unaware that the species existed in Eastern Massachusetts. Anyway, I love catching this species and now know of at least one stream that holds them. However, the presence and abundance of either species, combined with elevated water temperatures, does not bode well for trout existence (wild or otherwise) in the main stem. Perhaps that wild Salmo trutta that I caught (in late fall here) hang out in small(er) cooler tributaries or retreat to the depths of the reservoir in the summer. I know that there is a resident and self-sustaining  population of Salmo salar in this system; I'll be back for them this fall!

Ambloplites rupestris from the Stillwater River, Sterling MA

No trout in the Stillwater either; plan C was then enacted. Its now about 3 P.M. and I wanted to get home before diner time; this has to be hard and fast. I parked at the lower end of the Quinapoxet and hiked upstream, entering the water almost exactly where I started in early April. After only a few casts in likely looking spots, a flash and a solid bump indicated that I had fooled something. Images of Semotilus or Ambloplites immediately appeared in my mind. I set the hook; not a large fish for sure and as I lead the fish to my hand I noticed the characteristic markings of S. fontinallis. Yes, finally, wild trout actually exist in Massachusetts. That I had only been fishing for ~10 minutes was encouraging and had me internally kicking myself; I should have spent the day right here.

Salvelinus, in the flesh

The section that I fished was all pocket water, probably my favorite type of trout water. After landing that first fish, and knowing there were wild fish present, I mentally entered that state; you know, kind of like a trance. I would take a few steps and scan the water, imagining the fish-eyed perspective of the substrate and currents. Find that cushion, the place where a feeding fish makes a living. A quick flick to place the fly in the seam; raise the rod tip high, let it sink, make it drift natural, ever vigilant for that subtle pause--the briefest of moments where a fish takes the offering and before the realization that its fake.

A respectable pocket water S. fontinallis

I was in the zone, working my way up through all of the best holding water. Like a heron I moved and fished, plucking wild S. trutta and S. fontinallis from the currents. Each as brilliantly colored and feisty as the last. A few spunky, hold-over Oncorhynchus were there too. 

A hold-over Oncorhynchus, regaining color a spunk

It was all over after about 1.5 hours. I had gone far enough and had landed a dozen or so salmonids; a respectable grand slam by landing at least one of each species.  It was time to head home. As I packed the Element and headed east, I summed up the day mentally, my conclusion..."there are trout in them thar hills".

Pocket water on the Quinapoxet


  1. Mark.

    Some excellent pictures, and what a wonderful river you have there?

  2. I would also recommend the Deerfield. You can get everything from Smallmouth and Shad on the lower portions to stocked and holdover Brown, Bows and Brookies on the upper portion. And, it's a beautiful river. Best accessed via a kayak or boat but wadeable in many sections.

  3. Thanks Steve, the Deerfield definitely gets some good press and I will try that one in the future. Its a bit far from the suburbs of Boston...but I've traveled further for less!