I thought I knew this river. Like so many things in life, be they women, wine, authors, or friends, I knew one side of it, and was surprised when I saw something unexpected in front of me later. I have fished it before, upstream a bit where the fishery is heavily managed to the point where pieces of railroad tie divert it and give cover to the fish. Until recently I considered this river a theme park for trout fisherman, and I have grappled with the identity of the river as a place where old fisherman come to catch fish they have names for and a place where inexperienced people can come to fly-fish, perchance casting their lines across each other. I have plenty of opportunities to punch rude people in Boston, so I have avoided it since the first time I fished there in a pair of rubber clamming waders.
I soothed the urgency of winter early one spring with a white-knuckle trip during a warming trend that I thought for sure would bring off a hatch. The pretty day I planned on turned out to be not-so-pretty and climaxed with a light flurry… all but a short stretch of the same river was frozen bank-to-bank except for where I stopped, threw my gear on, and fished anyway. While I was standing in a river that by all rights should have been skated upon, with dudes whizzing by 100 yards behind me on snow-mobiles, and making fists around my rod-guides to melt away the ice, I caught the finest brown trout of my life that day after ignoring no less than a half-dozen good reasons to bag on the entire trip. Tell your boys not to pass on a girl who isn’t so pretty in high school, she may just turn into a gem later.
In between the upper part of the river and the lower stretch where I caught that beautiful brown, there is a meandering slither where the water goes by icy and smooth as if it were a melted flow of pure diamond so clear that the wavering clumps of vegetation (green, darker green, and brown) could be waving calmly off the backs of the stones in five feet of water or one. Behind the cobbles and in the feeding lanes, the trout are feeding, resting, or pestering each other. They can see you, and will often post up right behind you and pick food out the plume your wading makes… Don’t hunt these fish, they’re fucking with you. Drift something audacious instead through the feeding lanes where the less opportunistic trout have fought to make their bread and butter. A patch of cobble and waving weeds will change into a flash of light and you can tighten your line well.
You will catch rainbow trout whose heartiness and beauty will break your heart if you can outsmart them; these are educated fish, for the love of all things holy don’t hurt them; throw some stiff wood, bring them up, and thrash them across the surface, into your net, and release them wiser so that they may grow longer, stronger, and fertile. There are some pretty epic browns lurking in the calmer water too, countless wee brookies combing the riffles, and some landlocks that wash over the dam to break your ass off when you are trying to fish light. I am like you; I call bullshit on people who claim to catch 24-inch salmon in a Massachusetts river…. meet in the middle and fish a 5-weight.
And remember; respect the river. We may be watching.
**Contributed by ASO Pro-Staffer George W. George is Boston area artist, real estate professional, and an outspoken trout fanatic.