Fly fishing made easy in the headwaters of the Connecticut River.
Story and Photograph by Kirk Kardashian
All of my best memories of fly fishing are huddled in a corner of my mind where I stow all things West. On the Henrys Fork River in Idaho, I caught loads of breaching five- to eight-pound rainbow trout feasting on salmonflies as long as your thumb. On the Teton River, also in Idaho, a guide named Skip pointed from our drift boat to a large rock in the water, which he called the Cutthroat Hotel. “Cast your line in front of that rock and I guarantee you’ll get one,” he said. I did. It went like that all day: point, cast, catch. It was almost easy.
When I was looking for a similar experience closer to Vermont, where I live, I sought advice from my friend Ron Rhodes, a part-time fishing guide and a river steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council. “Lopstick,” he said without hesitating. He meant the Cabins at Lopstick in Pittsburg, New Hampshire. I promptly reserved a cabin and booked a day of fishing in mid-June with the head guide, Bill Bernhardt.
Lopstick is way up in the northern corner of the Granite State, near the headwaters of the Connecticut River. Discerning East Coast fly fishers are drawn there for what they call the trophy stretch. It’s 2.3 miles of fly fishing only. Since the river usually runs at 150 cubic feet per second, the trophy section is easy to wade. Scores of pools, eddies, and riffles hold vigorous rainbows, browns, and brookies. But the real secret to the stellar fishing is the cold tailwater that feeds the river from the bottom of the First Connecticut Lake Dam. Even in August, when other New England rivers run warm and languid, the Upper Connecticut flows strong and cool. Bugs like that. And so do fish.
The tailwater theory held true on my trip. Water temperatures hovered near 50 degrees. Bernhardt started us on the aptly named dam pool just below the lake. I could see promising fishing everywhere: boulders, sluice-like runs, channels. Within 10 casts, I hooked into a healthy rainbow, and then another. Later, we drove downstream and bushwhacked to a tighter, more technical part of the river. Casting into a suddenly pouring rain, I caught a bantam wild brook trout that fought like a middleweight.
We finished the day hunting one big fish gulping mayflies in the slack water near downtown Pittsburg. I made cast after cast, some of which Bernhardt said were nearly perfect. I never got him, but I did catch another nice fish in the process. Like the Idaho of my memory, it was almost easy.
If you go: The Cabins at Lopstick range from $99–$279 per night. There’s a fly fishing shop on premises with a full guide service for wading or drift boat trips. cabinsatlopstick.com
From the Summer 2014 issue.