A founding OARS Board member and avid fisherman, Larry Roy, agreed to share some of his experiences on the Assabet with us. Here, town-by-town, are some of Larry's favorite fishing spots and fish stories. The Sudbury and Concord Rivers are also known for their great bass fishing. For local knowledge on fly fishing and to learn about local brown trout stocking efforts, visit Concord Outfitters. Read on . . .
The A1/Nichols impoundment at the headwaters of the Assabet was created in 1969 by the Army Corps of Engineers for flood control. Some timber left standing provided excellent habitat for a blue heron rookery. Other timber was dropped and left to rot, making early boat traffic through the impoundment very difficult. The edges were manageable and offered some very good large-mouth bass fishing, at least where one could land a fish. I learned early that the center of the impoundment held some very large fish. You saw them and heard them and, if you hooked one, they owned you! A fish on the line was brief. They buried themselves in the timber and thumbed their tail at you. The hunt for the big bass at A1 left one frustrated. To land a large fish you had to use light saltwater equipment -- or broom handles and clothes line -- and pray to the fish-god that the big one would come to net. There was no question of catch and release. The bass were terrible tasting. Back they went.
I fished the impoundment, canoed it, walked some of the shoreline, hunted waterfowl, and enjoyed the heron rookery. I even represented OAR in a show with Ron McAdow for a Chronicle Magazine TV show on the Concord, Sudbury and Assabet Rivers. Today the area offers much to many. With most of the downed timber now rotted away, all of the impoundment is accessible. The impoundment is the location of several fishing derbies, with pike and bass the targeted species. Ice fishermen are well represented in season. It has diversified wildlife and some surprises. One afternoon I saw something swimming across a wide and deep area. A chipmunk -- whose name had to be Lucky -- dared the odds and made it.
The Cold Harbor, Howard and Stirrup Brooks in Northborough and North Brook in Berlin have been on the Division of Fish & Wildlife's stocking list for years. After they stopped stocking the Assabet in 1975, these streams in Northborough and Berlin still provided the upper Assabet with trout. The fish retreat back into feeder streams when the waters of the Assabet heat up. Danforth and Hog brooks in Hudson, Assabet Brook (Elizabeth Brook) in Stow, and Nashoba Brook in Concord provide refuge for trout. Escaped trout from the Musketaquid Rod and Gun Club also found their way into the Assabet River. The non-stocking of the Assabet didn't eliminate trout in the river. Fishermen who improvise and pick the right spots catch fish.
Along the Assabet itself, my favorite spots were from the old Candle Factory at Hudson Street at the Wachusett Aqueduct down to Boundary Street (Marlborough). There is rapid water from the Candle Factory to Yelleck's meadow. The meadow is in the flood plain and in 2001 was dedicated to Mike Yelleck, a dedicated bass fisherman and conservationist who died young. The family land was managed by the state and is now a state park. The dedication, attended by state officials, family, friends, and grassroots organizations ended with a trout stocking by Secretary of Environmental Affairs Bob Durand and area school kids. All the kids (Bob included) had a ball.
The stretch below Yelleck's is a wet meadow. The river becomes deeper, a bit slower and winds around deep cuts to harbor trout. The bank at low water can support a fisherman. One who knew the real estate could cross at the right spot and fish the other side where the grass is greener and the fish larger. I've visited the area for many years, and watched it come the full circle: abundant wildlife and clean water to raw sewage overflow from the old Westborough wastewater treatment plant, to the present good times. Good things do come around! Stirrup Brook comes into the Assabet from across Route 20. It is tough to fish, very deep and the swamp that protects it is wide. There are lots of thick alders and the lack of hard banking means your boots are never high enough, but the fish are there.
At Boundary Street you can launch a canoe and head upstream into Northborough, nose into some of Stirrup Brook, or, before Tyler Dam went in, float downstream all the way to Route 290. If you are brave, you can go under Route 290 and all the way to Hudson (lots of big spiders under the bridge). This is low water with no trash that you can sail through easily! High water would force you to push your way along and out. Once the dam went in, the trip was broken up. The dam slowed the river and pounded it up until it picked up speed again at the Robin Hill Road Bridge. This is again trout habitat with sheltered banks, sandy bottom and undulating grasses harboring nymphs and trout. In the mornings, as the water warms, there is more stream life activity and then a dimple, a swirl, more action -- a wonderful sight. You can walk the banking on the Hillside School side or canoe to Route 290. The pool at 290 always held trout if they were at all in the river-good fishing. I canoed that stretch this past spring (2001) after a Bob Durand stocking in June. There were trout rising from the bridge to Route 290. The river is coming back.
The Assabet had a great fishery in the '60s and '70s. With the spring stockings, along with holdovers and the filtering in of adult fish from the feeder streams, the Assabet held good fish and active fish for most of the year. A good brown trout population provided action even through most of the summer. They retreated into sheltered pockets, springs and feeder streams to weather out the hots and then were there for the fall. Night fishing for them was the norm.
At the "High Bridge," Bigelow Street/ Bridge Street (Berlin), you had your choices, up or down stream. It was better on the bank for the most part. Upstream toward the 1790 homestead the river is narrower, with very sharp and productive cuts.
I had just moved to Marlborough in 1970 and worked in Cambridge. I was usually late a few mornings in the spring but I always brought in gifts for the boss, who was a lover of fresh trout! I loved those early mornings, rain, shine and -- some years -- snow, working the bankings. After the opening day crowd of fishermen had moved on, the serious ones owned the river. One morning observing the grasses moving in a unexplained fashion, I asked myself, "What's going on?" As the sun came on stronger, with the aid of Polaroid glasses, I could see trout grazing on snails feeding in the grasses. I had heard of trout feeding on snails in Arizona, but I had never seen it firsthand. These were fast growth fish with thick bodies and small heads. Once I figured how to fish the feed, it was as easy as taking candy from a baby.
Canoeing downstream from Bigelow Street early in fast waters you enter a slower shaded area. The banking is firm and, shallower and you glide under a canopy of tree limbs in an Assabet so different you could be in another place. This opens up to a marsh with many cuts in the river. The main deep channel is hard to follow at high water with high brush, grass and the channel twisting under the power lines. I had never fished here, perhaps because it was unlike my idea of stream habitat for trout. Usually I moved quickly through the area between the NE Skating Rink on Bigelow Street and River Street in Berlin to more friendly sections. Once we enter the old "Volkswagen pool" [the VW is no longer there], we're more at home and early fishing picks up. The water is slower and one gets pickerel and bass, warm water species. Past the Route 495 bridge, fishing again picks up to where the river makes a sharp turn and runs parallel to the old railroad bridge/weir on River and Brigham Streets. I usually carried my canoe in at Brigham (~75 yds), where the golf driving range is. It was a lot easier 25 years ago; less poison ivy and more open. Middle May, warm and rainy, was the best time with few (if any) people on the river and plenty of fish. Usually the rain collected enough in my canoe for a fish tank. I culled fish by size, more pounds to the count! Fish is food for the plate and the soul. It was nice to have a quiet rainy afternoon, without the busy life. You could almost forget the 495 traffic sounds.
Paddling lower into Hudson, you find slower warm water species as you move on to the Washington Street dam. The takeout is behind the Hudson Fire Station. For the most part, the Assabet from here to the Concord River caters to the warm water species. Stockings at Hog and Danforth Brooks provide another trickle of fish for an annual youth derby at Tripp's Pond and surprises where Danforth Brook enters the Assabet from beneath Larkin Lumber under Main Street. Local kids could almost always pick up a fish or two throughout the summer.
From Stow down to the Ben Smith Dam is large water with lots of areas to fish. You'll find warm water species with early exceptions at Assabet Brook. The ideal afternoon - making a slow canoe passage tossing a small popper with the fly rod. You may catch a bass, a crappie or a pickerel. A stop over on the river banking, a sandwich, cold drink and maybe a short nap in the sun- it doesn't get much better!
The river has provided many good times for many people. Some have grown up on it and are lucky enough to use what it taught them later in life as a vocation. The Assabet was and is a working river. We are working to protect and restore the Assabet. It still needs help but will repay the effort back in good times tenfold!