For many years I have made my home on Ossipee Lake in Freedom, New Hampshire. Ossipee Lake is the headwaters of one of New Hampshire’s prettiest rivers: the Ossipee River. Despite the fact that the river is less than a mile away from my front door I have not fished the Ossipee in many years. The one exception is on New Year’s Day, opening day of trout season in New Hampshire, when a group of us celebrate the day by fishing at the dam on Ossipee Lake. A few days ago my wife Janet and I launched our canoe and made a leisurely afternoon trip down the river. My neighbor had been bragging about the marvelous Bass fishing he had been having on the river; needless to say we took along a couple of fly rods and fished for Small Mouth Bass.
The river begins at the dam on Berry Bay, at the lower end of Ossipee Lake. The river forms the border between Effingham Falls and Freedom New Hampshire. The river enters the Saco River in Maine and is roughly eighteen miles in length. From the dam to the Maine border is about ten miles. There can be excellent fishing for salmon and rainbow trout in the early spring at the dam. However, as the river warms up it becomes predominately a Small Mouth Bass fishery. Local anglers fish all summer at the Route 153 Bridge for Smallmouth Bass with excellent results. We began our trip at the canoe launch just downstream of the Route 25 Bridge. A few years ago an older bridge was replaced and a canoe launch was constructed off Route 153 where the old abutments had stood.
The launch is an excellent addition, however there are not a lot of good take out locations. In advance of our trip we had stopped to ask if we could take out at the Country Store/ Gas Station and Gun Store, near the state line. The owner gave her permission and said that she would have no problem with others as long as they asked first. As advertised the Country Store sells gas and other essentials and in addition they stock a good selection of fishing tackle and hunting supplies. From the put-in place to the store is only a short two miles. There are a couple of take-out spots on the Maine side. With a little scouting they are not hard to find.
We were fortunate to have picked a beautiful day for our adventure and the river was running at a comfortable flow. The river can be quite low in August so be sure to check it out in advance. The fly rods were broken out almost immediately. It didn’t take long before we had the first Bass of the day. Our tackle selection was kept to a bare minimum. We both had nine foot five weight rods and carried only a couple of boxes of flies. I selected a small white Sneaky Pete popper and never felt the need change for the rest of the day. Janet started with chartreuse popper and fished it until it was lost to a good sized fish. Her second fly was a King Kong; a kind of stone fly pattern. The Bass were eager to take our flies and I think they would have taken almost anything that you threw at them.
I anchored the canoe at a likely spot with a lot of blown down timber along the bank. I think we fished this one spot for more than forty-five minutes. We each took turns tossing our flies to the structure catching over a dozen fish between us. As I had mentioned before a large Bass of unknown proportions inhaled Janet’s chartreuse popper breaking off her 2X tippet. Even the smallest fish fought like demons and we lost as many as we landed.
Once we turned our attention back to canoeing we began to appreciate the natural beauty of the river. The first part of the trip follows close to Route 153. This is a rural area with light traffic and you barely notice the sounds of passing cars. Further down river the river follows Route 25 and traffic is more noticeable especially if a speeding logging truck should pass by. However, most of the time the only noise is that of the river and bird calls. We watched a kingfisher working ahead of our boat; he was by far the better fisher. We also saw an osprey, who also had made a nice catch.
The river is quite wide with a sandy bottom and lots of shallow grassy areas along the banks. Just before our take out the river narrowed and became rocky. In high water this section can be class III rapids, but on this day we were on the river we had only to navigate between them. The thing that struck both of us was the fact that we were entirely alone. Not another boater, swimmer or angler on the river despite the quality of the scenic beauty and the fishery. Only a few miles north the Saco River was crowded with hordes of canoes, kayaks and plastic tubes. I am told that on weekends a few kayakers have discovered the river, but for the most part the river is undiscovered.
As we were in no hurry and were enjoying the good fishing our trip took a little over three hours to complete. There was a time, many years ago when I used to fish and canoe the river with my son, but somehow I had forgotten what a gem the river is. I can assure you I will not wait as long this time before I return to fish the Ossipee.