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Fly Fishing on the Blackstone River
by David S. Porreca
Born and raised in Southern New England, I grew up fishing the Wood River in Exeter, Rhode Island. A fly fisher now for close to 20 years, it wasn't until six years ago that a close friend asked me to fish the Blackstone River. My first trip was just below the dam in the town of Albion, Rhode Island. Depending on what type of winter we've had and how long the snow lingers, the river in this area could be running quite high. I always bring a wading staff when fishing freestone rivers of this type.
Opening day early in the season will usually mean cloudy water conditions as well. You must exercise extreme caution when wading riffles and pools in areas throughout the river as many boulders abound and most will go unnoticed. In this area there is ample parking along the bike path. (Note: the walk down to the banks of the river can be a little
tricky). As I made my way to the waters edge on this spring day, I decided to wade the river close to the banks working my way upstream. This area below the dam creates a nice riffle with lots of oxygenated water. April and May usually bring water temps between 55 to 61 degrees, ideal trout habitat. As I waded the edge of the river, I noticed a few trout rising a few yards toward the center of the river where the fast water riffle met the calmer water. At the time, ignorant of the aquatic hatches that inhabit the Blackstone, I presented a tan Caddis fly #14 to the sipping fish. On the very first cast, the 14 inch brown rose to the opportunity. Upon releasing this fish, I proceeded to catch three more trout on Caddis, 2 Browns and one Rainbow. I was hooked!
As I continue to fish the river over the next several seasons, I will try to focus on spring and fall. The mid summer heat can really raise the water temperature quite a bit. Once water temps reach the 70 degree mark, catching vulnerable trout can place a major strain on their survival. Rivers such as the Farmington River in Connecticut provide ideal year-round conditions. The Farmington is a tail-water bottom fed river. This dam construction maintains cool flowing water all year. Unfortunately, the Blackstone River does not offer this benefit.
This is not to say you cannot experience some fantastic action fly fishing the Blackstone. Not only can you find some nice Mayfly hatches, but on several occasions in the month of May, I have experienced a tremendous black caddis hatch which brought every trout in the river to the surface.
Another section that offers great water anatomy is the area near the historical Kelly House in Ashton. Again, this section offers plenty of parking just along the bike path. If you walk north under route 116 toward the dam, there is plenty of riffle water creating great trout habitat. I usually work this section about 100 yards from the dam. This water is wadeable during normal water levels. You can also make your way down stream fishing a mix of flat runs and slower pools that will hold trout throughout the season.
The fly fishing gear I prefer is usually a 9 ft 4 or 5 weight fly rod. The river is bigger than most small New England streams and a 5 weight can help cut through the wind on gusty days. When trout fishing throughout New England's rivers I always use a floating line in a weight forward execution. This type of line is best for back-casting and distance. Most sections are not considerably deep which would warrant a sink tip fly line. I normally tie on the end of my fly line a two foot butt section of 30# monofilament with a nail knot. At this point I would apply my tapered leader usually 7 ½ ft or 9 ft depending on the hatches and conditions. Rule of thumb; during times when smaller insects are present such as midge or blue winged olives (size #18 to #26) presentation is key and longer leaders are a must. Most leaders that I purchase from local fly shops are usually tapered to 4# test. From there I will tie on tippet material of the same size or lighter. You must remember when applying tippet material to your tapered leader you must either match the pound test or reduce it to the next pound. Example: Tie 3# tippet to 4# leader for the best presentation. This of course all depends on the size fly you may be using, larger flies require heavier tippet. Flies of choice on the Blackstone River are a mix of subsurface and surface flies.
Early season April though May, I will use nymphs with a bead in order to get me to depths where finicky trout may be holding. Depending on the water level I will use a strike indicator as float to keep my nymph just off the river bottom. My favorite Nymphs during early season include Pheasant Tails, Hares Ears, Prince, Montana's, & scuds in size #12 through #16. Aggressive trout will all take streamer patterns in the swing as well. In this case traditional Mickey Finn, Black Nose Dace, and Flash-A-Buggers in various colors will do the trick. All in size #8 and #10. When the trout get settled and surface hatching begins roughly in May I make sure I have various surface patterns (dry flies) in my vest. I almost always start with a caddis pattern in black, tan, or olive. Caddis flies are abundant on most rivers throughout the US and the Blackstone River has a great Black Caddis hatch. I use this pattern as a searching attracter pattern focusing on areas where I would expect trout to be holding. Although there may be no hatching activity a trout holding just below the surface will often rise to a vulnerable fluttering Caddis.
As May lingers into June look to mayflies such as Sulphers and Little Mahoganies which hatch in the afternoons and into evenings. In this case my flies of choice are Sulphers & Mahogany Comparaduns in a size #14 & #16. With all surface dry fly fishing I always grease my leader as well as my fly to keep the artificial high and dry. In many cases I have experienced evenings leaving the river at 9:30pm with some great surface activity. This is not recommended unless you truly know the water well and always fish with a friend.
As mentioned earlier in the article once the summer heat is upon us and water throughout New England is scarce I usually shy away from the Blackstone River. If we get a bout of rain and cool days the water will dramatically improve and I'll make a trip to some of my favorite sections to fish again.
As fall approaches the Blackstone River will gradually cool and the fishing activity will again improve. This is the time to focus on terrestrials. Ants, Beetles, Wasp Patterns, Inchworms, and Grass Hoppers. During cooling trends the trout will get aggressive, feisty and will leap from the water to take a fluttering hopper from the surface. This fishing will begin as the evenings start to cool in late August and travel well into October. Surface activity will remain excellent during the fall making the Blackstone River an excellent getaway and trout fishery.
The Blackstone River is one of the oldest working rivers in the country. Years ago the river has been altered due to habitat degradation and industrial pollution. Over the past 10 year much more awareness has raised attention to the Blackstone increasing its quality considerably.
David S.Porreca lives in R.I. and is owner of the Blackstone Fly company which makes fishing flies. His website also offers insight into Hatch Charts, Guide services, events, products and tide information. Check out: