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Johnny’s Backyard is a Fishing Haven

With an abundance of freshwater rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds, North Central Massachusetts is prime fishermen’s country. From secluded backcountry streams to popular ponds near cities, the region offers a wealth of destinations.

Many of these waters are stocked with brown, brook, and rainbow trout by the state in early spring, and some places are also stocked again during the fall (see sidebar). Other local gamefish include bass and chain pickerel. Familiar panfish species include yellow perch, brown and yellow bullhead, bluegill, and pumpkinseed.

Trout, Anyone?

Heading from east to west, let’s take a look at some of the most popular fishing spots in Johnny’s backyard.

In Townsend and Groton, the Squannacook River offers several habitats, including deep pools favored by large trout. Both the east and west banks are part of a state wildlife management area that stretches along Route 119 from Harbor Pond in Townsend to Vose Dam in Groton, then through Shirley and Ayer to its confluence with the Nashua River. The Townsend State Forest offers access upstream from Harbor Pond.

The 99-acre Whalom Lake in Lunenburg is a popular local destination, thanks to its proximity to the centers of Fitchburg and Leominster. It is stocked with trout in spring, and salmon have also been released when available since 1996. A boat launch and parking area are located at the lake’s northeast corner, and Lake Front Avenue provides easy access to the west shores.

Nestled beneath the rocky ledges of Crow Hill, scenic Crow Hill Pond is also stocked with trout during the spring. It’s part of the 4,300-acre Leominster State Forest, which is located on Route 31 just south of its junction with Route 2 in Westminster.

Dunn’s Pond is the centerpiece of a 130-acre state park on Route 101 just north of downtown Gardner. Frequently caught species include trout (stocked in spring and fall), bass, pickerel, bullheads, and yellow perch. An easy loop trail offers access for shore fishing. Stocked trout and salmon are the prime attractions of Asnacomet (also known as Comet) Pond in Hubbardston. Known for its clear waters, this 127-acre pond has a maximum depth of 25 feet. A state boat ramp (20 hp limit) is located at the main entrance on Route 62, just east of the junction with Route 68.

One of the State’s Best Streams

The Millers River, the region’s largest waterway, has long been a favored destination for anglers from across the northeast. Historically regarded as one of the state’s finest trout streams, the Millers has recovered from 20th-century industrial pollution, though advisories regarding the consumption of fish remain in effect.

In the upper watershed, several conservation areas including the Otter River State Forest, Lake Dennison Recreation Area, and Birch Hill Wildlife Management Area protect more than 20,000 acres in Winchendon and Templeton. Lake Dennison’s 85 acres offer both shore and boat fishing for trout, bass, and chain pickerel. A boat launch (10 hp limit) is located on the west shores near the campground and picnic areas. The adjacent dirt roads, which are open seasonally to vehicles, offer access to many additional spots along the Millers and Otter Rivers, Priest Brook, and their associated ponds and wetlands.
Further downstream, there are seven miles of catch and release areas, including the segment from South Royalston to the Starrett Tool Company’s dam in Athol. Access to this highly scenic, undeveloped portion of the river requires a bit of walking in the Millers River Wildlife Management Area and Bearsden Conservation Area, but the views and solitude are worth the effort.

The east and west branches of the Tully River, the Millers’ largest tributary, are home to both stocked and holdover trout populations. At Tully Lake, a shallow flood-control lake on the east branch in Royalston, small coves, rocks, and aquatic vegetation offer excellent habitat for bass, pickerel, and trout from upstream stock sites such as Lawrence Brook. A boat launch is located at the recreation area near the dam on Route 32, while cartop boat access to both the lake and adjacent Long Pond is available at the nearby Tully Lake Campground.

With a network of conservation areas spread along its 11-mile length in Petersham and Phillipston, the east branch of the Swift River, Quabbin Reservoir’s largest source, offers many spots for anglers, including fly fishermen, to discover.

Productive areas include Connors Pond and the Swift River Reservation on Route 122 at the Petersham-Barre town line.

The massive Quabbin Reservoir, southern New England’s largest lake, offers a productive coldwater fishery. There are three fishing areas where boats may be launched or rented for half or full days from mid-April to mid-October, including Gate 31 on Route 122 in New Salem.