My Old Home River Now Runs Free

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Bob Mallard - National Vice Chair, Native Fish Coalition

Before moving to Maine nearly twenty years ago, I spent just over twenty years straddling the border of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. That time was split between an apartment in Pepperell, Massachusetts, my last rental, and my first house in neighboring Brookline, New Hampshire — both of which were home to the Nissitissit River.

In Pepperell, I lived within a 5-minute ride of where the Nissitissit River emptied into the Nashua River. I could walk to Millie Turner Dam, the only fish-passage-blocking dam remaining on the river, and I kept a canoe in the woods on the small impoundment above the dam which I could access by crossing a small field and walking through some woods right across from my home.

In Brookline, my backyard bordered Gould Mill Brook, just a couple of hundred feet upstream from where it emptied into Lake Potanipo, the source of the Nissitissit River. I could walk to the outlet of the lake and fish the headwaters of the river. And the stream was stocked with brook trout, with the occasional wild fish found upstream in the woods.

Gould Mill Brook empties into the lake top center.

Gould Mill Brook empties into the lake top center.

To say I knew the Nissitissit River well would be an understatement. In fact, I don’t believe I have ever known a river or stream more intimately than I did the “Niss.” I fished and canoed the river regularly and knew every inch of it. In fact, I suspect there was not a foot of river that I had not been on from its source to its termination.

I spent much of my time fishing the Nissitissit River Wildlife Management Area due to the fly-fishing-only and catch-and-release restrictions. Originally running from Sucker Brook to Gilman’s Pool, it now runs from the New Hampshire border to the Prescott Street bridge, a threefold increase from when I lived there. I fished near the Brookline, Prescott, Hollis, and Mill Street bridges as well.

I floated the river from bridge to bridge, fishing as we went. We put in behind the Brookline Police Station, and the Brookline and Prescott Street bridges. While we usually did single-bridge floats, if the water was right and the fish were biting, we sometimes did double-bridge floats that took an entire day to execute. The upper section was my favorite float as we rarely saw anyone else.

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The Nissitissit River was primarily a stocked nonnative rainbow trout fishery, with the occasional brown trout. Brook trout were stocked as well, mostly in New Hampshire, and I caught the occasional small wild-looking fish that were likely drop-downs from one of the numerous small tributaries, one of which, Sucker Brook, has seen some recent habitat work.

Walk-in access to the Nissitissit River was limited to the Wildlife Management Area and a few bridges. The water between the access points was tough to access and best fished from a canoe.

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The land abutting the Nissitissit River was a mix of swamp and relatively mature forests. The river was low-gradient and meandering. It braided in a few places and the upper half was broken up by small beaver dams that washed out each spring. There were deer, beaver, muskrat, the occasional otter, and turtles — including rare wood turtles.

The Nissitissit River was a beautiful place. Other than the stocked fishery, it was a natural and very lightly developed river that flowed unimpeded until it reached Millie Turner Dam within a mile or so of its termination at the Nashua River. There was an old defunct dam just below Gilman’s Pool, and another just downstream of Prescott Bridge.

In September 2015, the Millie Turner Dam was demolished, opening up the entire Nissitissit River and removing a long shallow impoundment that likely warmed the lower river. While I have not seen it since then, I plan on visiting my old friend as soon as I am able to. Special thanks to all who helped free this beautiful rural/suburban treasure.

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