It’s 7A.M. The sun is low over the pines lining the shore of Baldpate Pond in Boxford. The water is completely still, and as I paddle away from shore, a male mallard bobs over the slight wake cast by my kayak. I have the pond to myself.
From the corner of my eye I spot a small ripple in the water thirty feet away. I lift my fly rod and cast. The yellow line unfurls silently in the air as the tiny feather-laden hook falls from the sky and lands gently on the water.
When people think of fly fishing, the North Shore doesn’t often come to mind. Fly fishing images portrayed on television and the silver screen are the reason.
“The growth of fly fishing in the nineties can be credited in large part to ‘A River Runs Through It'”, said Tom Rosenbauer, marketing director of Orvis Rod & Reel. But Rosenbauer added that the romanticized image of fishing for trout on mountain streams has also caused many to overlook the great fly fishing water in less dramatic locales: an abundance of water we’re blessed with right here on the North Shore.
Many rivers run through it
With miles of rivers, dozens of ponds, and limitless salt water, the choice of where to fly fish is based greatly on what you hope to achieve. Are you looking for consistent action? A genuine challenge? Or are you simply after the thrill of landing a monster fish? Whatever your goal, by adopting a diversified approach to fly fishing, just as you would your investments, you guarantee the greatest return from your time on the water.
The most consistent fly fishing throughout the season is found on area ponds. Once the ice melts in early spring, MassWildlife stocks the water with thousands of trout. If that’s what you’re after, this early season “when the water is still cold” is your best bet. As summer settles across New England, the water temperature rises and the bass come to life. Once an acrobatic smallmouth takes to the sky to escape your hook, you’ll start to understand the allure of all those bass shows on Saturday morning TV. The ponds are great for novice fly fishers because it’s unlikely you’ll leave one without hooking up with something, be it a tiny pumpkinseed or a toothy pickerel.
Once the spring thaw is complete, the state stocks area rivers and streams. Here you’ll find perhaps the most challenging North Shore fly fishing as you engage in a chess match with wary trout. On rivers like the Ipswich, Parker, and Mill there are plenty of accessible fly fishing spots. You’ll frequently see anglers below the Willowdale Dam in Ipswich or in the Mill River where it passes under Route 1 in Newbury.
With slightly more effort, it’s worth the time to explore the smaller tributaries that feed the rivers. Pye and Fish Brooks in Boxford are good examples of smaller streams that are both accessible and stocked with trout.
But if big fish that can rip a hundred yards of line off your reel are what you’re after, the salt water of the North Shore is the place to be. It’s not just good fly fishing, it’s world class fly fishing. Striped bass enter local waters around the first week of May, followed by bluefish in July. And although the action heats up in June, Kevin Moore, the president of the Plum Island Surfcasters, finds that September is often the best month for inshore fishing. “With the peanut bunker and herring all close to shore,” Moore said, “fishing can be great all day long.”
While you can catch fish along just about any shoreline, first-timers might want to avoid heavier surf. Moore recommends the gentler slopes of Crane Beach or the relatively protected water of Joppa Flats for novices to get their feet wet.
Getting started and gearing up
If you’re ready to give fly fishing a shot, head to one of the local fly shops like First Light Anglers in Rowley or Rivers Edge Trading Company in Beverly. These expert shops will get you going in the right direction. And just as with skiing or golf, a prudent first step is to take a lesson. Women should take note that fly fishing isn’t just for men. In fact, several outfitters offer ladies-only fly fishing schools.
With respect to gear, fly fishers often get outfitted with enough gadgets to make James Bond envious. But there are only a few essentials, a point I learned fishing the Parker one day. As I stood in the river in my new waders and vest loaded with fifteen pounds of gear, an old-timer I know only as David approached me from the bank.
“Catchin’ anything with all that fancy fluff?” he asked with a chuckle. Before I could reply, he wandered upstream and waded into the water with little more than a rod and his blue jeans. Point taken.
So once you’ve acquired whatever you deem to be the requisite gear, it’s time to take that new rod out to the side of your house to practice casting. There’s little doubt that just as I did, you’ll flail about, looking less like a fly fisher than you do Indiana Jones whipping invisible snakes on your lawn. But in no time you’ll be ready for the real thing.
Soon thereafter you’ll come to appreciate the diversity of local fly fishing water. There’s no turning back once you’ve landed a smallmouth in a pond, a rainbow in a river, or a striper in the surf. And on the North Shore we’re fortunate. We can do all three … in the same day.