view of newfound lake in bristol nh

Great Places to Paddle and Fish in Bristol

September 7, 2021 6:04 am

There’s no better place to spend a hot summer day than by the water, whether it’s swimming, boating or fishing. In Bristol, there’s no shortage of places to put in a boat or throw in a fishing line. Our location within the New Hampshire Lakes Region on the shores of Newfound Lake is certainly a benefit to the kayakers, paddle boarders, and fishing enthusiasts who live nearby. We also have ample paddling and fishing opportunities on the five rivers that run through Bristol, most notably the Pemigewasset River which has some of the best white water paddling and fly fishing in the state.

Here are some local favorites for getting out on the water with your fishing pole or kayak.

1. Pemigewasset River

Just outside of downtown Bristol you’ll find Ayers Island Dam along the Pemigewasset River, known locally as “the Pemi.” At the dam, there’s a small parking area and spot to put in. With it’s class II-III rapids, it’s a popular spot for both kayaking or doing a little fly fishing. Heading toward Coolidge Woods you’ll find some great low-risk play waves, some of the most accessible in New Hampshire.

On the section of the Pemigewasset River further down from Bristol heading to Franklin is a 12-mile wild and scenic stretch of river, not unlike those found in more remote areas of New England. Preserved as part of the Army Corps of Engineers management area, there are almost no human structures along this stretch, save for some power lines.

“When I’m on it, I feel like I’m on the Allagash in Maine,” said Erik Thatcher, Director of Outdoor and Climbing Programs for Holderness School. 

Once in Franklin, check out the first white water river park in New England, which is set to open in the summer of 2021.

If you love to fish, the Pemi is one of the few places where you’ll find both landlocked salmon and largemouth bass. With NH Fish and Game stocking it with fish each year, no wonder it’s a favorite for anglers.

2. Newfound River

The Newfound River, which runs through downtown Bristol, is a great fly fishing-only spot. It’s not only well-stocked, but anglers sometimes get bigger fish that drop down from the lake. If you want to take a side trip off the river, the Fowler River tributary also offers great fishing.

Paddlers will find this 3-mile white water river challenging with three dams to maneuver along the way. Be careful. There’s been many a paddle broken here.

3. Northern Newfound Water Trail

Created by the Newfound Lake Region Association (NLRA) and New Hampshire Audubon, the Northern Newfound Water Trail is a numbered route that takes paddlers through the northern end of Newfound Lake and along the Cockermouth River. There are three wildlife preserves in the area, including the NLRA’s Grey Rocks Natural Area, where you can put in, and the Audubon’s Paradise Point Nature Center, where you can grab a map. Nature lovers will appreciate the peaceful atmosphere and great birding opportunities.

4. Newfound Lake

There’s a reason anglers flock to Newfound Lake. With some of the cleanest waters in the country, it also has a thriving fish population. Here you’ll find landlocked salmon, smallmouth bass, lake trout, rainbow trout and round whitefish.

Want to go kayaking but don’t have a boat? No problem! Wellington State Park has kayak rentals in the summer, plus one of the biggest freshwater beaches in the state for a refreshing dip after your ride.

Prefer to enjoy the water on a motorized boat?

Not everyone wants to fish or paddle. Come appreciate Newfound Lake and the surrounding habitat on the Newfound Lake Region Association Ecotour. Departing from the Gray Rocks Conservation area in nearby Hebron, the Ecotour gives boaters an up-close view of the lake and the work the NLRA has done to protect its waters, from monitoring water quality to observing plankton. For families with science lovers, add this to the summer bucket list.

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