Trout Bum of the Week LXXIII: Bill Bernhardt

The fertile waters of the Upper Connecticut River produce some fine brook trout, and Bill knows where to find ’em.
Photos courtesy Bill Bernhardt

Welcome to our series called “

Bill Bernhardt is head guide at Lopstick Lodge Outfitters in Pittsburg, New Hampshire, and he has fished in the Granite State most of his life. However, he has also guided in Chile and cast flies throughout the American West, New England, and the rivers of the Great Lakes. He lives year round in Pittsburg with his wife, Emily, and their two boys.

1. When did you start fly fishing?
I caught my first fish on a fly on a remote pond in northern Maine with my Grandfather when I was eight years old. The pattern was a red-and- white Devil Bug.

Bill’s latest obsession is casting for big pike in northern lakes.

2. What’s your favorite water?
It hard to say because I love them all. I love to fish and hike small streams for wild and native fish. I also love pocket water and lakes and ponds to fish structure for warmwater fish. But if I had one to choose one, it would be big, floatable rivers. I love being able to cover water throughout the course of the day and have a variety of fishing opportunities.

3. What’s your favorite species to chase with a fly rod?
I love them all. Right now I’ve been on a pike kick. In northern New Hampshire, the pike are not over populated, so they are very challenging. Overall I like all predator species, whether it’s big browns or pike. I love throwing sinking lines and big streamers. This kind of fishing can be very visual, and the anticipation keeps you on edge all day long.

4. What’s your most memorable fly fishing moment?
I was guiding for landlocked salmon here in Pittsburg. Things were going well, and my guests were doing fine catching a few fish. One of them caught a beautiful salmon, and as we were taking a quick picture, a young bull moose appeared on the opposite shore. I figured it would be great if I could get a photo of my guest and his fish with a moose in the background, so I did my best cow call. Wrong, bad idea. The bull started across the river right at us.

Floating the Connecticut south of Pittsburg can yield some fine brown trout.

5. What’s your most forgettable fly fishing moment?
I took a moment to collect my guests and getting them heading in a safe direction, as the moose closed the distance. I sent my guest in one direction, and I started toward the moose, hands waving, yelling, kicking the water. The moose kept coming, getting closer and closer, so I picked up a rock. At that point, we were fifteen feet apart. Suddenly, the moose stopped and looked at me for a moment. I could see the steam coming from his nostrils. Then he turned and walked off into the woods. My guest asked me, “What would have done?” All I could say was, was “I didn’t really have a plan B.”

I was Atlantic salmon fishing on the Miramichi. It was the last evening, and I hadn’t had a pull all week. My guide had me fishing a large Bomber. There were a few fish in the pool that would show themselves every once in awhile. Sure enough, I lucked out and a legit 30-pound salmon rolled up on my fly. I set the hook, stuck the fish, and the fight was on. Then I really set the hook, like I was striper fishing. Needless to say that’s all she wrote. I have no idea what I was thinking. I was a lot younger then.

6. What do you love most about fly fishing?
The fact that you can never know everything, that the sport is always evolving, that every day on the water is a different day with different experiences. Also I love that it’s an addiction like no other ,and yet nobody tells you that you have to quit.

7. What is your favorite piece of gear
My Bill Franke’s nail-knot tool. Bill Franke passed away in 2013, unfortunately, but he was a great rod builder, an accomplished fly tier, a very innovative machinist, and awesome salmon angler. Well, Bill made a great and super easy nail knot tool, and I’ve been traveling with and using it for 20+ years.

Another dry-sipping brown trout comes to the boat. . . .

8. What’s your go-to fly when nothing else is working?
It depends on the time of year. But if there are fish there and you can’t get them to bite, I often tie on a streamer I tie called a Bambino. It’s just a gray and white, marabou, beadhead streamer. I even had my guys nymphing it under an indicator this past weekend.

9. What was your favorite fly fishing trip?
I’ve fly-fished around the Western Hemisphere, throughout Canada and down through Patagonia. But my favorite trips now are ones I do with my family. My wife and two boys all love to fish, and I love teaching my boys to fly fish and appreciate being outdoors. They are starting to learn how to back up a trailer and work the boats. My oldest boy, Will, who’s eight, told me on our last trip out that all he wants to do is fly fish. He said it was a challenge and it was fun.

10. How do you define the difference between someone who loves fly fishing and a true trout bum?
The difference is, being a trout bum is a lifestyle, where everything is fly fishing. You read it, you watch it, and all you want is to do it and learn more about it. When you pass any body of water, (pond,river, any type of drainage or creek), you what’s in there. After 37 years of fly fishing and doing it professionally for over 20, I still don’t sleep the night before I go on a trip with my buddies. I’ll stay up late to do my research, tie some flies, and stare at the clock until it’s time to get up.

Landlocked salmon are the real trophies of the Upper Connecticut system.

5 thoughts on “Trout Bum of the Week LXXIII: Bill Bernhardt”

  1. I had the pleasure of spending half a day on the upper Connecticut River with Bill last summer. He is a fantastic guide and a great person. I caught a lot of fish and learned tons.

  2. I fish with him once a year, floating down the Connecticut River around Colebrook. He also gave my wife her first fly fishing lesson this last June. He is a true professional, a good teacher, with plenty of patience and very knowledgeable. Thanks Bill.

  3. Bill Franke was one my best friends. We had a salmon fishing camp in N.B. We fished together many times. I tied dry flies for his rod shop. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him. The world is not a better place with out him ! He was generous to a fault, I love you my friend !

  4. Billy and I have fished and worked together for years around North Conway and in Pittsburg- he is a dedicated fly fishing bum, an excellent fisherman, and an all round terrific friend!

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