Connecticut River Wash-Out

There was so much rain the week I spent on the upper Connecticut River that even my photos of the time got washed away… Not really… Two summers ago my wife and kids dropped me off at Lake Francis State Park near New Hampshire’s northern border with Quebec. They allowed me to deal with that incurable affliction known as “trout madness.” Just before I was left to fend for myself with only my two feet for transportation, they helped me pitch the tent in a sudden deluge of rain. That event was the trigger to a week of monsoon weather. Taking the only decent camera that we owned, Leighanne and kids pushed off for a visit to Montreal and Quebec province.

In addition to my fly rods and a week’s supply of dehydrated food and drink, I was left with a disposable, plastic camera that took photos of vertical and horizontal flows of water. What you see pictured here along with a brief narrative is one spirit of New Hampshire viewed before the rains began, a view of neighborhood environs in a dryer time.

So the first night’s rain fell steadily till about 4:00 a.m. when the birds began to chirp relief and when a common loon began to shriek from the cooled waters of Lake Francis. Later, when the sun appeared for an hour or two , I made an heroic but futile effort to dry my clothes and camp equipment, the first of numerous failed attempts in days to come.

The rivertop is a tannin-colored stream flowing southward out of Canada through a series of dams and lakes. The Connecticut, all told, is the largest river draining the Northeast, and its upper section is a premium trout stream for the region. The flow between First Lake and Lake Francis conveniently skirts the campground for an angler intent on catching trout and wild landlocked salmon, rain or shine.

There were moose tracks in the river mud, boulders in the stream, and a run of white-water that could probably match the down-pours that I watched. But despite all the rain that first week of July, the upper Connecticut remained fishable because of its controlled release of water from the First Lake dam. Although the river looks like a free-stone water flowing through a dense forest, it’s actually a tail-water that ensures cool temperatures for trout throughout the summer.

The Connecticut, averaging about 50 feet wide for the half mile that I fished each day, has a steep gradient. Water slammed against mid-stream boulders forming rapids and deep eddies. A path through the fir and spruce woods was marked “Fly Fishing Only.” Here the river had to rank as one of the most attractive fishing locales I’ve had the pleasure to find in the eastern U.S.

Unfortunately the fishing wasn ‘t as good as I had hoped for. Part of that was due to the rain, but I was a rookie here. I caught brooks, browns, rainbows, and even a few small landlockeds that fell for my streamers (Grey Ghost and Muddler Minnow) and dry flies (Royal Wulff and Adams) but they were stretched over a week’s worth of angling like a thin man fading into rain.

With a cup of coffee and binoculars in hand, it was fun to watch the loons paddle on the rain-spattered lake then swim underwater for untold distances. The white-throated sparrows did their best to cheer my sodden bones by whistling their five-note songs from lakeside shrubbery.

At the Visitors’ Center I asked about the weather forecast. “Nothing different– just rain, heavy at times, today, tomorrow, forever,” said an elderly volunteer. So again I wrapped myself like a green mummy for the rain, walked down to the river where the showers meshed with the darkened surface of the water. I’d watch for the fly line or the yellow indicator to make a sudden pause in its drift. I caught a 15-inch brown trout on the last of my Grey Ghost streamers. When the Ghost was snagged and lost on a dead-head in the roiling water, that was it. I left the river to the winter wrens and Swainson’s thrushes shuttling back and forth across the water feeding their young.

I was rescued by the tourists returning from “sunny Montreal.” They’d had a good time of it. Would I recommend fishing the upper Connecticut to others willing to cast a line? You bet. But fish during the monsoon or in hurricane weather only as a last resort. Despite often feeling like a loon surfacing from a swim beneath the surface of a lake, I had a rich experience. On our homeward drive, the sun broke from the clouds. The river valley had become the bed of a shallow lake.

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About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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2 Responses to Connecticut River Wash-Out

  1. Abby says:

    Beautiful photos, Walt, and a great post. This is near to where I grew up in the mountains of Western Maine. I remember camping at Lake Francis when I was a teenager. The area is beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

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