The fly-fishing-only section of the Saco River is a 2-mile stretch of river that runs from Lucy Brook to Artist Falls Brook. It represents just 5 percent of the Saco River mileage that flows through New Hampshire.
Fly anglers, by their nature, conserve the resource. The best illustration of this is the two-fish limit versus the standard five-fish limit for non-fly-fishing-only waters.
Lee Wulff, world-famous fly angler, coined the phrase that a trout was “too valuable to be caught only once.” Fly anglers have taken this to heart. The majority of fly anglers release all the fish they catch. Fly anglers use barbless hooks or pinch down the barbs on standard hooks.
The 2 miles of fly-fishing-only waters in the Saco River is hallowed ground to the fly anglers who come to the valley — anglers who spend money at hotels, inns, restaurants and fly shops.
The fly anglers who come to the Saco know that their water is the place for launching kayaks and tubes.
It is where people choose to swim on a hot day. They understand this and adapt their fishing hours accordingly. During recreational season, the fly anglers call the Saco the 5-to-9 and 6-to-10 water. This minimizes conflict between all the users of the river.
I fished the lower fly-fishing-only section of the Saco early this week. I had hoped to catch some fish with hoppers in the Glide, Swallow Bank Pool and the Fourth Hole Pool.
I got a later start than I planned. I parked at First Bridge and started walking down the path to the Swallow Bank Pool. As I emerged from the woods and onto the riverbank, I could see a fellow angler fishing the Swallow Bank Pool. Not wanting to disrupt a fellow angler, I walked to the tailout of the Glide.
The faster water of the tailout meant fishing streamers. I tied a silver Humungous to my line. I cast to one of the fallen trees in the river. BOOM. Fish on! A nice foot-long rainbow trout was brought to hand and quickly released. Working down the river, there was a trout hiding under every tree. Great fun.
As time to open the shop got closer, I headed up the river to fish the Glide. This piece of water has the history of holding plenty of trout. Some measured in pounds not inches. I tied on a Stoneflopper dry fly and began to fish up the river. Not a trout was seen or heard. The years have not been kind to the Glide.
Recreationists have taken it upon themselves to cut vital wood habitat out of the Glide to make it easier for them to navigate. This has been devastating to the trout.
Disappointment overtook me. It was disheartening to see that non-anglers were so discourteous to others who use the river.
As I reached the head of the Glide, I spied a freshly fallen tree that spanned the river. My disappointment turned to optimism. I cast my Stoneflopper above the tree. I watched as the fly floated toward the tree. Just as I was getting ready to lift the fly off the water and recast, a fish came out from under the tree and took the fly. I shortly had a nice brook trout in hand. Habitat matters.
Tip of the Week
Cutting of trees that have fallen in the river is illegal. If you see this habitat destruction taking place, call Operation Game Thief to report this activity. The fish will thank you.
Steve Angers is a native son to the Conway area. He is the author of the acclaimed book “Fly Fishing New Hampshire’s Secret Waters.” When he is not casting to trout in the valley, he operates the North Country Angler.