Photos: Discovering an Urban Fishery in an Old Mill Town

Written by: Geoffrey Klane


Largemouth or smallmouth, bass abound in the canals of this post-industrial metropolis.
Photo by Geoffrey Klane

[Editor’s Note: Geoffrey Klane submitted a bunch of photos for last month’s “20 September Days” Contest, but his looked much different from the rest, as they were shot in the heart of Lowell, Massachusetts. I asked Geoffrey to write something up that would capture the flavor of this fishery, which he seems to have all to himself.]

I first picked up a fly rod in the early spring of 2015. I had fished on and off for years, and something about fly fishing intrigued me. The sport placed particular emphasis on strategizing and developing a skill set, all while enjoying and learning to respect the exquisite beauty in the nature around us.

For most, nature is not immediately around us. We travel anywhere from twenty minutes to twenty hours to get to where the fish are. But this is not always necessary. In particular, I am lucky to be in Lowell, Massachusetts. Looking at the city from one of the highway exits, one would certainly not see a vibrant urban fishery, more a thriving metropolis. Like other Massachusetts cities that feature well known waters–Worcester with Lake Quinsigamond, Northhampton with the Connecticut River, and Boston with the Charles and Mystic Rivers–Lowell has a great many fishing opportunities: the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and, most important of all, the city’s canals.


The canals that one drove industry are now a fascinating fishery that few experience.
Map via Wikipedia

The Lowell canal system is not only a viable fishery, but it’s a part of history, as well. Going back to the mid-nineteenth century, Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack River provided an excellent power source for the textile factories that were springing up left and right. With the advent of these new factories came the desire for more factories and workers to fill them. To provide power and transportation of goods, a canal system was dug.

In my brief time fishing in Lowell, I have found the canals to be a rich fishery teeming with life. With a variety of locations on different parts of the canals, I get out every day to one area or another before or after work and hook into fish for hours at a time. As for species, I have seen in the water, there are all sizes of: smallmouth and largemouth bass, perch, panfish (sunfish and bluegills), and carp. All these fish are catchable from assorted points around the city; it’s just a matter of how much walking you feel like doing.


It’s hardly a babbling mountain stream, but this canal provides some of the same joys.

For gear, I most often use my 4-weight with a floating line and a 7- to 4X leader of between 6.5 and 9 feet. This setup has proved perfect for everything from the small fry to the more sizable largemouth.

Upon selecting a spot, I am approached with an interesting challenge: people. When you’re up on a mountain stream or down on the shore, the aim is often to have a riffle, run, or pool to yourself, enjoying the peace and quiet. Lowell being the city that it is, I am often approached by people who walk by and notice my strange behavior. They always ask what it is that I am doing, and I get the pleasure of talking to someone new about the joys of fly-fishing. Most have either never heard of fly-fishing, or at the very least, have never seen a fly fisher in Lowell. They ask what I catch, if anything, and generally, all are surprised when I list off the variety of fish I catch–even more surprised if I manage to pull something up while they are standing there.


The bluegills fight hard and are usually eager to take flies.

There is something truly special about the fishing experience that I get from being in Lowell, and I only look forward to exploring it further. Don’t worry: I’ll report back as I discover more!

Geoffrey Klane lives, works, and fishes in Lowell, Massachusetts. When he’s not plying the city’s canals, he works as a producer/assistant director/aerial videographer at Lowell telecommunications Corp.


Many Northeasterners call these scrapper “calico bass.”

You may not find solitude, but you’ll probably be the only fly fisher on this water.

Who wouldn’t want to catch a few of these on the way to work?

7 thoughts on “Photos: Discovering an Urban Fishery in an Old Mill Town”

  1. That’s awesome. I enjoyed your daily photos in September, and admired the spirit in which you are taking the sport to a landscape like that. Three hours to the north of you, I’ve spent most of this year plumbing the treasures of heavily impacted post-industrial mill town waterways with which few anglers bother, and the results have been incredible. Don’t you sometimes feel like you’ve got a treasure all to yourself, hiding in plain sight?

    1. I live in San Antonio, Texas and have a pretty busy life. I started biking on the local parks to get some exercise after work and I realized that there ar many waterways hidden throughout the city. Most people don’t fish this places since thy believe they must be barren, but once you throw a fly down you realize that the small pond by the little creek that never disappears even during the dry times is full of fish! I have managed to catch all sorts of panfish, bass and even catfish not even 5 miles from my home, that happens to be well within the city. There are some local blogs that talk about this places, but they don’t talk about all the places around town. Started mapping all the possible fishing points around town and is around a hundred. It is exiting to know that even after a busy day of work you can go to to the park and catch a bass before you go to bed.

      1. Eugenio,

        That is so cool that you have that local fishery and the fact that it exists almost year round is an added bonus!

        Hundreds of spots? Lowell has a few, but I haven’t gottten into the hundreds just yet. Way to go!

        Tight lines!

    2. That is more often than not, exactly how I feel Matt! I rarely if ever see another angler in Lowell, let alone another fly fisherman. Whether it’s the function of the environment found in the city or the lack of an interested community, I get to have many a day on the water all to myself but for the occasional passer-by. There is something really cool about the complete experience I get from just walking around the city while hitting my favorite spots. We are truly lucky to find ourselves in these uniquely beautiful locations.

    3. (Sorry, first few times commenting here)

      That is more often than not, exactly how I feel Matt! I rarely if ever see another angler in Lowell, let alone another fly fisherman. Whether it’s the function of the environment found in the city or the lack of an interested community, I get to have many a day on the water all to myself but for the occasional passer-by. There is something really cool about the complete experience I get from just walking around the city while hitting my favorite spots. We are truly lucky to find ourselves in these uniquely beautiful locations.

  2. Pingback: Photos: Discovering an Epic Urban Fishery II | Orvis News
  3. Hi Geoffrey, great article, even if I’m a bit late finding it.
    I’ll be near Lowell on this upcoming Monday with a few hours to fish. Any great carp spots you’d recommend? I’m not afraid of walking and am an experienced carp fly fisherman
    Matt

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