The Connecticut River valley, within the immediate vicinity of Hanover and Norwich, offers a wide range of fishing opportunities. The river valley is a product of a variety of geologic and glacial erosion features, and is riddled with water bodies of all sorts. The combination of both indigenous and introduced species is responsible for the great diversity of fish available to the angler.
Taking advantage of our fortunate setting, Bait and Bullet sponsors fishing trips throughout the year — even during the winter. If you have any interest in joining up with other anglers, regardless of your experience, call the DOC at (603) 646-2429 to find out when Bait and Bullet meets.
Of historical significance is the reintroduction of a sea-run population of Atlantic Salmon (salmon salar) to the Connecticut River watershed. This project involved many years of effort by local, state, and national organizations. Millions of dollars and countless volunteer hours were invested to ensure the return of the first salmon from the Atlantic Ocean. The salmon traveled from somewhere in the Ocean to Long Island Sound, up the Connecticut River, and finally to the White River in Vermont. The first fish, of a native species that had not graced our rivers in over a hundred years, was spotted in Stockbridge, Vermont in 1985. Unfortunately, a second returning fish was taken illegally from the White River the following year. Nevertheless, the success of the salmon restoration program serves as an indicator of the health of this watershed. Most of it is classified as A or B on the water purity chart.
Wilder Dam, off Route 5 in Wilder, Vermont, is the site of the latest fish ladder built to allow the up-stream passage of spawning salmon on this mighty river. These fish, fresh from their stay in the Atlantic Ocean, can be studied at the Observation Booth on the Vermont side of the river. However, there have not been a great many salmon to see as yet.
Basic Angling Concepts
The concept of fishing is simple. The idea is to catch fish by presenting bait or a lure as food. A hook of some sort must be concealed in, or affixed to, this lure or bait so that the quarry may be captured. Many boys and girls began their fishing careers with a piece of string, a bent safety pin, and an impaled earthworm. The sport has evolved from these early beginnings of willow stick, string, pin, and worm, to expensive synthetic sticks, high-tech line holders, elaborate reels, and unbelievably ornate lures and flies to fool and attract the fish. Luckily, many children today still begin fishing the way their grandparents did. Others make a quantum leap to rod and reel at the side of parent, grandparent, fishing instructor, or friend. New Hampshire offers a “Let’s Go Fishing” program where men and women who love fishing pass on to younger folk what they have learned about this sport.
It is extremely difficult to summarize in a few short passages what one has learned in a lifetime of fishing. If you are brand new to the game or area, go with someone who has some basic knowledge of technique and tactics. Short of that, find a general book of introduction and read it a number of times. Read the fishing regulations you receive when you purchase a license, and study the suggested references contained in this chapter.
There is such a wide range of tackle and fishing paraphernalia that it is difficult to know where to begin. Many books are available on the subject. Consult them to gain a better understanding of fishing tackle.
There are three basic rod types used in freshwater fishing: the fly rod, the casting rod, and the spinning rod.
The Fly Rod: Most fly rods vary in length from six and a half feet to nine feet. A reel to hold the fly line is needed, of course. In fly-fishing, the line carries the fly (a feathered hook) to the quarry. There is usually a transparent length of nylon or other synthetic material of from six to ten feet between the lure and the line. The fly is designed to imitate the natural food of the fish being sought. Flies vary so widely that one has to visit a fishing tackle shop to appreciate the infinite variety in their design.
The Casting or Bait Rod: The lures in both spin and bait casting are heavier, thus the line can be lighter. In the casting rod, it is usually a woven nylon-based strand of varying strength (called “test”). These rods are generally in the five or six-foot range and are simpler to use. The reel is open faced, so the line is visible. A leader and lure attach to the line. The weight of the lure carries it out, as the rod is swung forward, or cast. There is a myriad of rods and lures to choose from; therefore, a sales person of some experience in the sport should be consulted. It might be wise to speak with a friend who has some bait fishing experience before going out to buy things. Better yet, get someone to come along with you.
Spinning Rod: The spinning rod and reel are one of the newer additions to fishing apparel. The length of the rod can vary from five to eight feet. Reels are designed to fit and match the rod. Because the lures are heavy, the line used is light in weight. It is usually a synthetic material of small diameter. These are the most commonly used rods. Consult an experienced friend or salesperson for suggestions as to what to buy.
Other Equipment Needs
The next important item is what one wears to stay dry along the various waterways. Knee or hip-high boots, or chest-high waders are most often used, and very effective. However, many anglers wade wet when the water and weather warm up (that is, in sneakers and shorts). Some like to take along a net, a creel (container for the catch), and spare flies, leader, line, and lures. A knife and nail clippers are important too. A jacket or fishing vest of some sort to carry all of this plus lunch and a beverage is in order. Also useful might be a whistle, a few first aid items, waterproof matches or a lighter, insect repellent and bug netting, a cap, compass and map, sun screen if needed, and a high energy snack. A tackle box might be needed if you develop a serious interest in fishing.
The newcomer’s first decision must be whether to seek a permit in New Hampshire, Vermont, or in both states. If you have a resident license from either state, you can fish all of the Connecticut River without another thought. However, if you purchase a non-resident license , you can only fish that portion of the Connecticut River which is in the state for which they have a license. Because the state boundary is the mean low water mark on the Vermont side of the river, with a non-resident New Hampshire fishing license, you can fish the Connecticut River proper and everything on the New Hampshire side, but not those setbacks or tributaries on the Vermont side. A non-resident who has a Vermont fishing license has the same restriction for New Hampshire setbacks and tributaries, but also can not fish the main stem of the Connecticut River.
There are three-day, fourteen-day, all-year, and cold or warm water species permits, all of which can be purchased by residents or non-residents. Fees have increased, so carefully consider variations in regulations and water ecology before making a choice. Do not go out illegally!
An early review of literature from the respective Fish and Game Departments will be in order. The Vermont Guide to Fishing is an excellent map guide for the state. Write to Vermont Fish and Game Department, Montpelier, VT 05602: (802) 244-7331. In New Hampshire, contact State of New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, Public Affairs Division, 2 Hazen Drive, Concord, NH 03301: (603) 271-3212.
Town clerks usually sell licenses and are also a good source of information. K-Mart, at the plaza in West Lebanon, and the Lyme Angler in Hanover, are also state licensing agents. An added value is that these are sporting goods stores. The sales people are knowledgeable about both equipment and local hot spots.
The Trout Family
Members of the Trout Family (Salmonidae) are present in all of the cold-water lakes, ponds, and streams of both states. Most are hatchery raised, then stocked at various stages of their development. This practice makes wild fish less available, offering a challenge to seek them out. There is natural reproduction of many species, especially in Vermont where the water is lower in pH than that in New Hampshire.
Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is a native eastern species, and may be found in limited numbers in remote locations. Most of the Brookies caught are hatchery raised.
Rainbow Trout (Salmo gairdneri) and Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) are introduced species, but make up a major percentage of the catchable fish.
Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) and Landlocked Salmon (Salmo salar) are found in the deeper, colder lakes and also in a few of the larger rivers. Fisheries personnel have managed the native populations for years to insure their health and availability.
The Atlantic Salmon was extirpated from the Connecticut River over one hundred and fifty years ago by dam construction. Reintroduction and current management at all levels, town to federal, has seen modest success in returning adults to the drainage. This species cannot yet be taken locally, but do check the rulebooks for the latest information. Many juvenile salmon (parr) exist in feeder streams, especially the White and Amonoosuc Rivers. These may not be killed even though they will readily take a fly meant for another species. It is important to learn how to release fish unharmed, as the salmon reintroduction program has been in place about fifteen years.
A limited Coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch) fishery is found in the coastal waters of New Hampshire. Sea-run Browns come into two small streams near Hampton, New Hampshire, and can be fished until December 31.
The Sunfish Family
Sizable populations of both the Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) and Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieui) are found in the rivers and ponds of the area. There is increased management of these species as they become of greater interest to the angling community.
The species do not generally grow as large as in some of our warm water states, but anything over three pounds is fine. The smallmouth is apt to reside in the same waters as trout, and often falls to the same angling guile. There are plenty of cold lakes where these fellows are found, and many times when they are not sought after.
The largemouth prefers warmer waters and can be found in many ponds and rivers, especially the Connecticut. The big lakes are also good areas to seek them. Checking with a local tackle shop is a good way to find out where they are biting, and on what lure or favorite bait.
Many other members of the sunfish family have served as a youngster’s first introduction to the joys of fishing. These include all of the sunfishes and crappies.
The Perch Family
The Walleye (Stizostedion vitreum) is found in waters of both states. The Connecticut holds a good population. There is an excellent spring and fall fishery for walleye at Wilder Dam, a few miles down Route 10 from Hanover. Walleye are resident in the river all the way to the next upriver dam at Wells River.
The ubiquitous Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens) is claimed to be the sweetest tasting fish in the region. Perhaps so. It’s hard to argue with a nicely fried mess of freshly caught yellow perch, especially if taken on one of those cold New Hampshire days from one of the local ice fishing spots. A gustatory delight, these fish are generally under harvested and often overpopulate ponds where they are found.
The perch does serve as an important part of the food chain and may be the only fish taking on a particular day. Don’t ignore them, as they often grow to one-pound size and are fun on light tackle.
An important note: when using bait fish on managed trout ponds, try not to release live bait into the pond as this is the way yellow perch are reintroduced into a pond reclaimed solely for trout.
The Pike Family
The Chain Pickerel (Essox niger) is a common resident of warm water ponds and slower estuarine sections. Great fun to catch! They are found almost everywhere, as are the yellow perch. Fishing for pickerel can liven up an early morning or evening adventure. They’ take a streamer while you’re fishing for trout. The ferocity of the strike and size of some of them have left anglers gasping. Of course, the leader doesn’t stand up to their sharp teeth. So another fish story is born. Preparing those caught for the table is another matter.
The Northern Pike (Esox lucius) is found in the waters of both states. The Connecticut holds a good population — small ten-pounders have been taken on a rod from Otter Creek. Vermont has a better distribution than does New Hampshire. The Vermont Guide to Fishing gives locations should you care to tackle this fellow.
There are many other members of the finned family in the waters of New Hampshire and Vermont. We have covered the majority of types we seek, except the big game salmon, which require professional guides and their powerboats for success. Try Lake Champlain!
One final species worth mentioning is a member of the Catfish Family. The Brown Bullhead (Ictalurus nebulosus) “ is a favorite among New Hampshire anglers. Any angler, skilled or unskilled, can catch it using most any type of tackle. Earthworms are probably the most common bait. Native fishermen claim it is the best eating fish you can find.”, says John Scarola in Freshwater Fishes of New Hampshire. What more can one say?
Fishing in New Hampshire
By now, you are anxious to find out whether there are any secret fishing spots revealed here. Not so. The names and locations of all the places mentioned are on public water and you are welcome to try your luck. There are no secret places anymore. Where we have had luck, others have been before. Here’s a chance for you.