Logic – a systematic way of going wrong with confidence

A typical stretch of New Hampshire's Mascoma River

One of the things we always cover with students in our Northeast Fly Fishing Classes is the importance of checking river flows and knowing the conditions before heading out to fish and worse case driving hours or several hundred miles only to find the river flooded and unfishable.

A friend was scheduled to leave for an Atlantic salmon fishing trip a few weeks ago. His fishing partner had driven from Virginia to Connecticut when he received word the river was flooded and the trip was off. The trip was rescheduled a week later and they had a great trip. Often if other clients are booked rescheduling is not an option. In 2010 most of the rivers in Montana flooded from May to early August; we arrived just as the rivers became fishable. That’s more like shit luck than luck. Last year most of our larger rivers flooded in May and were high into July. This year between the snow pack and heavy rains there have been very few days to fish the major rivers. Hopefully Memorial Day weekend will be OK and anglers will be able to get on the water. The rain on May 16th & 17th pushed the Saco in Conway up to almost 15,000 cubic feet a second; that’s about 5 feet higher. The Pemi went from about 1000 in Woodstock which is not fishable to around 14,000 cubic feet per second; that’s six feet. Ever river is different depending on its size. The Androscoggin in Errol is fishable at 2,000 feet per second but smaller rivers would be flooded at the same flow. Here’s the United States Geological Service WEB site. Not all rivers are included but there’s enough to get a good handle on most of the watersheds. http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nh/nwis/current/?type=flow

Pemi Gage height May 2014 By clicking on the station number you can get the weeks flows and vary the parameter to look at different periods of time. Some of the newer gauges have air and water temperature. The chart shows what rainfall and snow pack melt can do to a river. We like to fish the Pemi in Woodstock at high of about three feet on the gauge; there have been few fishable days around Woodstock this spring. By checking the gauges along the river it’s easy to see the flows increase from along the river from Woodstock to when it peaked at Manchester two days later. Sometimes we’re able to fish downriver around Bristol or Franklin before the flows increase; that can be cutting it pretty close. It may not rain for days in an area your fishing but rain in the upper watershed will create flooding. That’s common in the Connecticut, Androscoggin, and Pemi/Merrimack watersheds. There are exceptions to every rule; sometimes below a dam the flows will be fishable. That’s often the case if the impoundment has capacity to store water for downstream power or if there’s flooding downriver they will oftentimes hold water back. In either scenario if they have to release water fishing below a dam can be dangerous; fluctuations of several feet can occur. Flow increases of two or more feet are not unusual.


Last year on May 2nd my guiding partner Gerry and I traveled to the Farmington River in Connecticut to fish the Hendrickson hatch. We had one of those perfect days; the hatch and fish were on. My May column recapped the ongoing series of medical issues over the last several months. On April 25th I had a steroid shot in my back. The doctor said it would take a week of it to work. If you’ve seen anyone hunched over a shopping cart for support that was me. I couldn’t stand up straight or walk any distance. I had picked up a cane/seat; the handle opens into a seat. About five days after the shot I started to notice a difference; less pain and I could stand up a little straighter. That had to be a sign so on May 2nd a year to the day we headed back to the Farmington. The Farmington flows out of Hogback reservoir and is a bottom release shortly downriver the Still River enters. On the morning of the trip Gerry checked the flows, The Still was at 1000 cubic feet and dropping rapidly; the Farmington was at 150. We thought that even if the river did not drop we could fish above the confluence.

We stopped at Up Country Sportfishing for licenses and checked out an apartment they have. Eternally optimistic that there will be a few days we’ll get away. We were able to find a spot at one of our favorite pools; the cane/seat worked great and we waited for the hatch. We tried streamers and nymphs without any luck and with the high water nothing was hatching. We worked up river; initially the river dropped and we could see a few inches of wet rings on the rocks; that soon disappeared. Fishing a pool above the confluence it became apparent they were releasing more water from the dam. The flow at the dam increased from 150 to 600 making the section from the dam to the confluence very treacherous. The Still dropped to 700 but it was basically a washout. I only felt safe wading out knee deep and on the third cast wrapped a nymph rig around an overhanging tree and lost everything. The only good news was that after cataract surgery I’m able to tie on size 16 hooks without glasses. There was another angler fishing below in chest deep water. There’s no way I would have been that deep in cold water. When he got out of the water we talked for a while. He had been in Rangeley Maine the day before. As it turns out he has a back problem and has a steroid shot every four months. He said it takes two weeks for the shot to work for him. It’s been one month since the shot and my back is improving.

Bolstered by my success using the seat on the 4th I was on the water with one of our classes. The only mishap was when the cane must have been on sand and sank; over I went. Nothing bruised other than ego which has suffered a lot of dunks over the years. Well there was something else; sitting on the seat most of the day is like being on a bike or saddle. Mid May I was back on the Farmington at the same pool with another friend. Flows were perfect and so was the hatch; we did not see a rise. We worked up river and did not see any rises and then went down river several miles and found a few rising fish. Hatches start lower on rivers and work upstream three to five miles a day depending on the water temperature. As an example when the Alderfly hatch starts on the Androscoggin around the Pontook reservoir it will usually be out in Errol three to four days later; and then on the Rapid River in Maine within a week.

The earliest I ever had the drift boat on a river was in 2012 when I had it in on March 30th.

Sometimes it’s April, most often May and a few times not until June. This year will be a late year. I pulled the boat out and took it to a pond on the 21st just to see how I would do rowing. I use a rowing machine all winter and weights so it’s usually like I was never out of the boat. This year was no different even with the back problem. I went to Willard Pond with my wife Barb. It was one of those few days on the pond with no wind. Barb lost one fish; unfortunately it was when I suggested she try and get it on the reel verses striping it in. I got a rainbow on a size 16 parachute Adams. Lots of rises, they must have been taking small midges; I did not have any small griffins gnats; size 18 which probably would have worked; so much for packing light. There were a few float tubes and kayaks fishing when we got there but only one float tube when we left. We have a lot of great ponds and June is a great month to spend an evening on one of them.

Over the winter I picked up two new outfits; a full flex rod for Barb and a mid-flex; both were part of a guides program. The mid-flex is the top of the outfit. The full flex has a mid-range price but great for dry flies. It’s the only rod I’ve ever cast and felt a noticeable difference. We were drifting the Pemi with a friend last year with his boat; more like dragging in a lot of spots and he had one of the rods. With this particular company if you’re a member of the guides program you can’t promote the name. Most companies offer guide discounts and it makes a difference over the course of a year. I’ve made quite a few of the rods we use for clients and picked up others on sale but these rods were too good to pass up. Hopefully we’ll be using them for a lot of years and they can be passed on to younger generations.



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