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2018 Tenkara Fly Fishing Diary

A big brook trout from the Ellis River

The trout fishing season is almost over in New Hampshire and this year been a watershed in my development as a fly fisherman. Despite the insufferable summer heat, the fishing was unexpectedly great, and I spent many a late afternoon or early evening by a riverside or stream with a fly rod. While I caught a lot of trout, I really benefited from the repetition of fishing many streams and rivers. I’ve been fishing for a few years, but this was the first year I really dedicated myself to integrating fishing into my daily routine and hiking trips.

Flies

My best performing flies this year were ants, bead head bugs, flymphs, and most recently, bead head prince nymphs. These are wet flies fished below the surface in the water column or bouncing along the river bottom. Most the rivers and streams I fish are less than 8 feet deep and often as shallow as a 1-2 feet. When I fish with a Tenkara rod, I can usually see the fly in the water, so I can adjust its depth. I’ve found that this can make a big difference on its attractiveness to feeding trout.

Typical fly assortment
Typical fly assortment – some standards, some patterns to experiment with. Mostly size 12.

I tie most of my own flies and while I watch fly tying videos on YouTube and read books that have lots of different patterns in them, I largely make up my own fly patterns with whatever materials I have hand on my fly tying bench. New Hampshire trout are not very choosy. At least not the ones in our smaller rivers and streams. Lake trout may be a different story, but I don’t do that kind of fishing because I like to hike along the streams and rivers I fish.

I experimented with a number of fly-tying ingredients this year including:

  • jig hooks and slotted beads, which are better for trout because they get hooked in the lips rather than down the throat, making for a faster and less invasive release. They are easier for trout to head-shake though.
  • ice dubbing, which is a sparkly reflective body material to get trouts’ attention in the water.
  • better quality dun and ginger capes for hackles with a better variety of feather lengths and better coloring
  • many more bead heads to help sink the flies

I wouldn’t be surprised if I spent as much time tying flies as I did fishing this year. It’s kind of hard to explain the pleasure I get from tying a nice looking fly and then using it on a river later in the day. I guess I’m hooked.

Rods

My faithful Tenkara USA Iwana remains my favorite rod to fish with, although I picked up a very sweet multi-piece 9′ Orvis Clearwater Frequent Flyer late in the season which is a better instrument for larger rivers, where more reach is required. I frequently carry both on hikes.

However, I am looking for a much shorter Tenkara rod (with a cork handle) for fishing small streams that have a lot of tree and bush cover. If you have a suggestion, let me know. I’d like a rod that’s as short as 6′ to 8′ in length.

Parapet Brook in the Great Gulf
Parapet Brook in the Great Gulf

Rivers

In previous years, I ranged far and wide looking for good trout fishing rivers, but this year I stayed surprisingly close to my New Hampshire digs, fishing the Ellis, the Wildcat River, the Peabody, and the Swift repeatedly, working different sections of the river to find the best fishing spots. This involved a surprising amount of bushwhacking, scrambling, and some wading, which doubled the fun.

Brookie on Nancy Brook
Brookie on Nancy Brook

I also started carrying at least one Tenkara rod on all of my hikes and backpacking trips, sampling a growing number of smaller streams to identify other good fishing destinations. This really opened up my eyes to the potential of New Hampshire fly fishing. Every river and stream has trout in it, from Smarts Brook and Nancy Brook to Synder Brook on Mount Madison. The tiny brook trout might not be monsters, but they’re fun to find, catch, and release.

I still sampled many rivers and smaller streams, almost too many to count, since it’s so easy to stop and fish for a while with a Tenkara Rod when you happen to pass by a nice section of trouty-looking water.

Here’s a list of my many ramblings. They all have trout. The trick is to learn how to read trout water to identify the places where they’re most likely to lie.

  1. Peabody River
  2. Ellis River
  3. Saco River
  4. Swift River
  5. Wildcat Brook
  6. Wild River
  7. Snyder Brook
  8. Israel River
  9. Zealand River
  10. Ammonoosuc River
  11. Smarts Brook
  12. Sawyer River
  13. Nancy Brook
  14. East Branch Pemigewasset
  15. Parapet Brook
  16. Rocky Branch River
  17. East Branch Saco River
  18. Cold River
  19. Evans Brook
  20. Austin Mill Brook
  21. Bemis Brook
  22. Norcross Brook
  23. Meadow Brook
Smarts Brook Gorge
Smarts Brook Gorge

The New Hampshire trout season starts shutting down between September 30th to October 15th, depending on the river. There are a few that remain open later in the season and year round, which I might give a go before it gets too cold to fish.

The New Hampshire Freshwater Fishing Digest lists the seasons for each species and the special rules governing different rivers. There are a surprising number of rivers with extended seasons, including rivers that are open year-round, which is worth knowing about if you want to ease into the off-season. I might just…

But until next spring, I guess I’m going to be tying a lot of flies.

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