Bikepacking in the 2nd College Grant owned by Dartmouth College
Bikepacking with backpacking and fly fishing gear on a 30-speed gravel bike.

My buddy Ken and I took a three day bikepacking and bikefishing trip into a conservation area called the Second College Grant in Northern New Hampshire, about 65 miles north of the White Mountain National Forest. It has two excellent trout rivers in it full of native brook trout, the Dead Diamond and Swift Diamond Rivers, which we fly fished during a three day backcountry trip.

This area has a number of gravel topped logging roads that run through it, but is gated to vehicular access. It is open to the public as long as you hike or bike in. Catch and release fly fishing is permitted with barbless hooks, along with hunting (New Hampshire licenses are still required). It’s a hidden gem, way off the beaten path, and one I only discovered last autumn.

Fishing conditions on the Swift Diamond River were fabulous with continuous trout habitat
Fishing conditions on the Swift Diamond River were fabulous with continuous trout habitat for miles.

We spent most of our time fishing the Swift Diamond River on this trip. It’s about 3-4 miles in from the gate off Rt 16. The water is crystal clear, the river has a gentle gradient and is full of boulders, providing excellent habitat for brook trout. The fishing is nearly continuous as you walk up the river, casting from the side or wading to get closer to the center or far edge. There’s enough quick-water to oxygenate the water for the trout, with long rock-filled runs, eddy lines, and shallow drops to fish.

This was Ken’s first Tenkara fly fishing trip, but I knew he’d grasp the basics quickly since he’s fly fished before with a reel. He’s a very experienced outdoorsman: an hiker, backpacker, climber, cyclist, and a professional mountaineering guide for Redline Guiding in the White Mountains. We met years ago on a long winter hike and have shared many adventures since then.

Ken rode a fat tire mountain bike on this trip, while I opted for a gravel bike
Ken rode a fat tire mountain bike on this trip, while I opted for a gravel bike.

It was also our first bikepacking trip together, an offshoot of backpacking that combines off-road cycling and ultralight backpacking. Instead of hiking to exotic locations, you bike on gravel roads maintained by the forest service, private logging company roads, or state maintained ATV trails in backcountry areas that don’t have hiking trail access. We have a lot of areas like this in northern New Hampshire and throughout Maine that I’ve always wanted to explore. Doing it on a bike means you can go farther and faster than on foot and that you can ride up gated roads that are inaccessible to motor vehicles.

Since you’re carrying your gear on a bike, you want it to be as compact and lightweight as possible. In fact, the only thing really difference between ultralight backpacking and ultralight bikepacking is that you walk in one and ride in the other. Most of the other skills like camping, cooking, navigation, thermoregulation, etc. are nearly identical, with the exception of emergency bike maintenance, like flat fixing.

Native brook trout caught with a Stewart's Spider
Native brook trout caught with a Stewart Spider.

I think we were both a bit shocked by how relaxing this trip was. We rode our bikes a bit, but mostly fished and fished some more. We caught most of our fish in the morning using black colored flies. I caught six brookies one morning, all on a Stewart Spider, and stuck with that most of the trip. It’s a non-representational pattern tied with a Starling feather, that I started tying this spring. Ken was also successful, landing a few brookies of his own on his Tenkara rod.

One thing we tried on this trip, was to bring waders, something I normally don’t do when fishing with a Tenkara rod. I’m glad I did though, because the Dead Diamond and Swift Diamond are both wide enough, that wading provided much needed added reach into the fishing lanes.

I wasn’t able to locate a current map for the area, except for the USGS maps on Caltopo and Gaia, which I suspect are at least 30 years out of date. Dartmouth College manages the area, but publishes very little information about it. The area is well signed however and you can easily backtrack if you use an app like Gaia to track your route. The roads are gravel and reasonably well maintained, but when riding, you do need to keep your eyes on the surface in front of you to avoid rocks sticking up out of the surface. There are also a few hills, but they’re well graded and relatively easy to climb.

Outrunning a pending thunderstorm - bridge over the Dead Diamond River, NH
Outrunning a pending thunderstorm – bridge over the Dead Diamond River

This was a wonderful fishing trip and great dress rehearsal for a much longer bikepacking and bikefishing trip we have planned for later in the summer, near the Canadian Border in Northern New Hampshire. That area doesn’t have the much hiking access, but it does have hundreds of miles of gravel roads and some of the best trout fishing in New England.

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