Blackwater River, NH in August, 2017

Every year there is a series of scientific meetings called the Gordon Research Conferences. They once met exclusively in the summers at boarding schools and small colleges in New England. Some of the meetings evolved to occur at different times of the year and are now held in swanky hotels and lodges around the world, but the one I attended is still an “old school” style meeting. I stayed in dorms (no air conditioning) in a small room with a single bed and a common bathroom across the hallway. My meeting was at a boarding school called Proctor Academy in rural Andover, New Hampshire. The idea behind this type of meeting is that everyone stays on the same campus, eats all meals together, and has time to interact and discuss their science. Breakfast is at 7:30 a.m. The conference gets rolling at 8:30 a.m. with speakers and goes until 12:30 p.m. There is a break for lunch and then participants are free until 4 p.m. During the free time people play soccer, tennis, volleyball, golf, swim, take tours, and if you are like me, take the opportunity to fly fish. At 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. the scientific posters are presented. Then comes supper and more scientific talks that end about 10 p.m. After that, the bar opens and people adjourn to drink a bit and discuss. It makes for a long day.

Before coming to the meeting I scoped out the territory on Google Earth. There were several lakes, ponds, streams and rivers in the area. So, I decided to pack my #4 weight fly rod and a fly box in my luggage. I would have a rental car and could make it to nearby fishing spots spots fairly quickly from the academy. I wished to have more time to fish, but usually took the opportunity of my free time from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. each day. The afternoon of my arrival I walked down a hill to the Blackwater River (not much more than a stream really, about as wide as a two lane road) and stood on a covered bridge surveying the water. I saw some small fish that looked to be 8”-12” in length below the bridge. Trout? Being from the south, I had never really had an opportunity to trout fish. In fact, I was seeking my first trout. So the next morning I was up at 5 a.m. and headed to the river to fish a bit before breakfast. It was a rough and steep approach to reach the water. I tied on a black foam beetle with a deer hair wing. I figured it might be a good late summer fly, and it would float and not hang up on bottom debris. I had come down to the water in a pretty rough spot with lots of trees and brush, so I was restricted to roll casting. It wasn’t long until I had a strike and briefly fought a fish until the hook came free. Promising result! I kept on roll casting, moving a little this way or that and after a few more minutes I got another solid strike. It wasn’t a big one, only about 10”. I could see it had gold sides and when I got it up the fish was disappointingly not a trout, but a large creek chub instead. I fished a bit more and tried to move down the bank, but it was really thick and difficult to walk.

After lunch I returned and tried to fish the downstream side of the bridge. From the bridge, it looked like the bank was a bit cleaner in that direction. I tried, but it was still very rough with downed trees, brush, roots, and other obstacles that again held me to roll casting. I explored a bit, and after no fish action decided to climb up a hill to the back of a baseball field. I jumped the fence and was free of the thick undergrowth. But I note see that the opposite side of the river would be a better place to try.

On Tuesday afternoon I decided to try Hopkins Pond, about a 10 acre lake that the NH Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries said was stocked with shiner minnows and trout. I went down the bank from the parking spot and found room to cast a fly. But it was shallow there and I figured the trout would be around deeper waters. I walked the banks and once again found very restricted casting room. I was casting the beetle, and the little minnows loved it. It had a #6 hook that they avoided. After about 30 minutes of roll casting the beetle I switched to a #12 beige nymph, thinking the trout might take a deeper fly. I did not get any trout, but I did get about a dozen shiner minnows on the nymph. Maybe the stocked trout were fished out or they were out away from the shore. Anyway, it was a pretty New Hampshire lake that was surrounded by wild blueberries and had a pretty pair of loons in residence.

I took a break from fishing on Wednesday and caught up on my sleep in the afternoon. On Thursday afternoon I tried the Blackwater River again. I went down the steep bank to the better side and was able to get off some full casts. It wasn’t long until I got a couple of chubs on the nymph. Then I made a long cast toward a fallen log in the water and hooked a fish that felt a bit different and fought better. It came into view and became a trout. I was excited and as I lifted it the hook came out of it’s mouth. It was loose and flopped in the rocks and I scooped it up, took a quick photo, and revived and released it. Later I looked up it’s image and saw it was a brook trout. I always wanted to catch one, and now that fish is checked off the list. I got another chub and then noticed a big snapping turtle swimming around by the rocks. It came up to me within an arms reach and seemed to want food from me. Perhaps people had been feeding it, because it was not wary of me at all. It was time for the meeting to resume, so I hustled back to the dorm, got cleaned up and met with more researchers. This meeting was a professional and a piscatorial success. The meeting will return to this school in 2 years. Maybe then I’ll be up for some river wading to get off the bank so I can cast more. I also hope to try for some smallmouth bass on the fly. For now, I’m back to New Orleans and hoping to hook up with a jack crevalle on my #10 weight fly rod. They will be hanging out in Lake Pontchartrain until October.

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