Rivers of Rocks

Broodstock Atlantic salmon on the Pemi

I seldom drive through the notches or anywhere else in the state without noticing the scenery. We had a family out fishing on Father’s Day and it wasn’t until I looked at the pictures that I noticed the rocks. It’s kind of like the saying you can’t see the forest because of the trees. There are rivers that have sections without rocks; usually along level stretches. Parts of the Androscoggin, Connecticut, Merrimack and Saco are like that where they flow through farmland and smaller rivers and streams that wind through bogs. Even then it’s not unusual to find a large rock or ledge along the river.  The hardest river for wading I’ve ever encountered is the Rapid River in Maine from where Lower Dam used to be at the outlet of Pond in the River to Umbagog. The river drops about 150 feet in two and a half miles. Drops are usually rocks and ledges and the Rapid had that plus. Fishing the river often involve crawling or walking over large slabs of granite or rocks to fish pools. The river is in a remote location accessible by boat or hiking unless you’re staying at Lakewood camps on Lower Richardson Lake which still requires a boat shuttle or a sixteen mile drive on dirt roads. This is not the place to have an injury or a medical problem. If you encountered a problem and had to be rescued or evacuated it would take a long time. If you were fishing remote pools from river left it could be a long time before anyone found you. I’ve fished it alone in the past; it’s not something I’d do again. Given my recent back problems I may never fish the Rapid again.

We don’t have any really easy rivers for wading in New Hampshire. Several rivers have sections that aren’t too bad. The Saco River below River Road in North Conway is more like a western River; sand and small gravel to rocks the size of cobble stones. Its relatively easy wading compared to other rivers. Similarly there are sections of the Pemi which are good; just not quite as good as the Saco. On the upper sections both rivers have clear water which if reflected in the lighter colors of the rocks and sand. Downriver as the Pemi darkens the rocks have shades of brown and black and are larger. back-of-canoe-008

The most difficult river I’ve waded in New Hampshire is the Contoocook in the West Henniker area. That’s the section of river I’m referring to in the column and where the pictures were taken. The Contoocook has a variety of water from Jaffrey to Penacook. The elevation drop is 200 feet Hillsboro and Henniker; larger than the drop on the Rapid. Most of the elevation drop is in West Henniker. The river is similar in size to the Rapid; maybe a little wider in spots. Like the Rapid it’s a favorite for white water kayakers. The West Henniker area has class III rapids and class IV rapids at Freight Trail Rapids. The Contoocook in West Henniker is one of the most popular rivers in New England for white water. The good news is when the flows drop to a fishable level the kayaks and canoes are just about gone; occasionally you may see one but they are not a problem.

Years ago I used to fish the river a lot; now it’s mostly guiding trips. By the middle of June the water is warming; not good for trout; however there are a lot of bass in the river. Once in a while if we have a wet summer; without a lot or 90 degree days the river will hold up. The flow can drop pretty low in the summer and the river can be more like a stream. For wading the river a flow of 800 cubic feet per second at the Henniker gauge can be tough; 3-500 is good; fewer than 200 it’s starting to get thin. Although it’s a popular river there are usually spots where you can fish without a lot of pressure. At one time or another I’ve walked a lot of the river on both sides.back-of-canoe-015

That’s a lot of scrambling over rocks for hundreds of yards and often not finding a pool or run to fish. It doesn’t make any difference if I catch fish; I like to check out pools and find out what’s fishable at different levels. On Father’s Day I was able to get to a pool that’s only accessible at lower flows. It’s a small deep pool and could hold fish all year; we only got one strike but there was a fish there.

The end of May I had my boat on the Pemi/Merrimack for a trip from Franklin to Boscawen. The flow was on the high end of what I like to drift the river at just over 3000. Harder fishing but it makes the run below the Route 11 bridge easier. We had a couple from Pennsylvania and their daughter who lived in Boston. They were novice anglers but had some action with trout rising. My guiding partner Gerry waded one and I had two in the boat. At lunch we gave them the option of going down the Merrimack to Boscawen or going up the Wini and taking out at the high school; and fishing a pond in the afternoon. With high flows the Merrimack was going to be more of a boat ride than fishing but the couple wanted to drift the river. They liked to canoe and he had canoed the entire Delaware river. It was one of those rare days without any wind; with the high flow we cruised along with hardly any work on the oars. We landed a few trout; an unexpected bonus. back-of-canoe-016

A friend who is also a guide wanted to drift the river to try for brood stock salmon one last time. By early June the flows had dropped to around 1100 at the dam which is low to run the boat down. I wasn’t particularly interested in making the run; whenever the boat is moving you have to be on the oars.  Another guide who had never made the run wanted to learn the river so we got together and made the run. I was in the back seat pointing out the runs. His boat is larger and heavier than mine but he picked his way through the more difficult runs without hitting anything. I thought he did a great job of reading the water and handling the boat. I had two salmon on and landed one and stopped fishing. My friend had a few salmon on and landed none; an apt reward for having landed a ton of salmon in New Brunswick in May. He did land a dozen or so nice trout; a pretty good day on a New Hampshire river.

I repaired a few pairs of waders this morning; one expensive pair that have been sent back to the manufacture twice. This spring I’ve tried to repair them a few times. One leg gets a little damp; nothing major. The same friend who was salmon fishing in New Brunswick was repairing a pair of waders earlier in the spring. He gets in the swimming pool and tests all the waders before the season starts. Here’s his email on repairing.

A Simms video described what you were speaking about; put some Isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle – spray the INSIDE of the wader (turn wader inside out) any pin holes show up as a dark spot — take Aquaseal – and rub that into the dark spots — allow to cure for 12 hours or so. So I did all that – but my tube of aquaseal was a bit gelled – so had to cut the small tube with scissors – applied the aquaseal with fingers – as Simms said to do – but the wind blew the paper towel with the cut aquaseal onto the table – then got aquaseal on the scissors – tried to clean the aqualseal off the glass top table with the paper towel – streaked the table – then tried to clean off the scissors -cut my finger – blood all over my shirt -scissors are gummed up – shirt is in the wash – bandage on finger. BUT waders don’t leak – should have just thrown waders away.

Now need to buy new aquaseal – for the next time. Think I’ll try to pour the isopropyl alcohol back into its original container – before we think its water and try to put out a grill fire.


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