Recent transitions in nature and commerce

As the local landscape ever so slowly transitions from winter to spring, it appears there are many things on the wing other than a few flocks of migrating birds.

One of the most recent moves includes the relocation of Wiley’s Flies, which has left its former home in Rainbow Lake to settle into a comfortable, and more accessible, storefront in downtown Ray Brook at the site of the old Halfway Inn.

Wiley’s Flies is the domain of Vince Wilcox, a local fly fishing guide, fly tier and an author of several books on fly tying.

Following a stint working as a guide and outfitter in Colorado and fishing on many of the “big” rivers of the West, he returned to the Adirondacks of his youth. Wilcox grew up in Saranac Lake where he learned his way around the local waters while tagging along with his father, Steve, who also knows a thing or two about the finer points of the sport.

For the last few years, he has worked out of a fly shop that he established near his home in Rainbow Lake, but the “just driving by” traffic was rather limited. It will be convenient to be able to get a batch of Vince’s flies from just up the road, rather than driving all the way out to Rainbow Lake.

The new location will include boat and equipment rentals, as well as lodging.

Judi’s Computer Support is another recent immigrant from Saranac Lake that has recently settled into a new location in Lake Placid, located adjacent to Simply Gourmet at the western end of town. In addition to their usual good service, Judi’s also offers one of the few electronic recycling facilities in the region.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Jones Outfitters, which is still the oldest continually operating Orvis Store in the country, is back on Lake Placid’s Main Street to stay.

After spending a few years at the other end of Main Street sharing a building with High Peaks Adventures, the shop is back within casting range of Mirror Lake. As always, Jones is the place to go for good gear, great guides and solid advice.

I’ll also toss out a few more shameless plugs for a couple of longtime local sport shop stalwarts, where the information is always free and well worth the price.

Over the years, I’ve learned to rely on the kind folks at Blue Line Sport Shop in Saranac Lake for some of the latest information on local waters. Due to their downtown location, Blue Line’s employees are often in touch with traveling anglers (visiting anglers like to brag) and local ones too. As a result, they are often privy to more recent reports of good fishing than most shops.

I’d also like to recommend the other sport shop in Ray Brook, which for several years is cleverly disguised as a functioning Sunoco gas station and a deli.

Unfortunately, there is only one wall of the small building decorated with rods, reels, tackle and other items that can cause trouble for trout. However, the fellow behind the register obviously knows his stuff because he seems to be working at night so that he’s able to fish all day.

Saving the best for last, I usually start off the spring with a visit to the River Road Bait and Tackle located in the striving North Country metropolis of Bloomingdale. The visit also provides an opportunity to visit Norman’s Grocery.

The small building is located within an easy casting distance from a trout stream on River Road, just down from the bridge.

Francis Tuthill is the young-looking proprietor who has been around forever, or so it seems. His knowledge of local waters is exceptional, and his friendly manner usually turns a simple visit into a sit’n visit. It’s a good place to get solid information, as well as live (and lively) bait and plenty of good laughs.

Troubled waters

I got involved in the navigational rights effort in the early 1980s while working as a representative for the American Canoe Manufacturers Union.

At the time, I often worked with the late New York State Assemblyman William Hoyt, whose son, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, has recently been heading up his late father’s former advocacy efforts.

I worked with Paul Keesler as well. He was the publisher of NY Sportsman Magazine and was well-established to advocate for public access to New York state waterways. Keesler’s book, Canoe Fishing New York Rivers and Streams was one of the first publications to offer an in-depth analysis of the laws of public navigation.

During that period. I was also involved with WCFE-TV in Plattsburgh, assisting with a number of documentary productions dealing with the issue.

I wasn’t totally convinced it was the right thing back then, and I’m even less enthralled with the options today.

A lot has changed in the 30 or more years since the effort first began. There have been many more miles of water under my bow, and thousands more paddlers out there with faster, lighter and easier-to-use water craft.

There’s also a whole new crop of crap that can easily be transported from one watershed to the next via a canoe, a sandal or even a bowline.

Back in the early days of my involvement in the issue, there weren’t such threats as didymo (rock snot), spiny water fleas, Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia and more. Once invasive species such as these get into new terrain, it’ll be difficult to get ’em out.

Public paddlers are not going to be as wary as the landowners, and a single episode of exposure can reverse over a century of wise stewardship.

I’ve often wondered if the general membership of The Sierra Club considered this fact when the organization helped to bankroll one of the first “test cases” that got the navigation ball rolling on the Moose River so many years ago.

Since then, I’ve been both a guest and a guide on many of the large Adirondack estates, and as a result of those experiences, my perspective has changed.

A major part of the current perspective comes from personal contacts with owners, and from experiences in the field with both the paddling public and dealing with the ever-burgeoning issue of invasive species.

Many of the large, private properties in the Park have adopted a Las Vegas approach to preventing the introduction of invasive species on their lands and waters. Simply put, they do not permit anyone to bring in rods, reels, flies, lures, lines, waders, wading staffs or other equipment that is not accompanied with a bill of sale. The same conditions apply to boats, canoes or guideboats. What is used in the Park stays in the Park. It is a wise policy.

Unfortunately, the best efforts of the entire membership of a large, private park can easily become useless in the face of interlopers who bring in a single bit of rock snot, milfoil or any one of the numerous invasive threats that can find a traveling host from one waterbody to the next.

And while some may claim the possibility is an unlikely scenario, how many would be willing to bet their own private land on such a chance? It would be interesting to learn if the “through paddlers” would be willing to do the same if the route took them through their grandparents’ land. The wading shoe fits kind of tight when it’s on the other foot.

It’s also been shaped and molded by an understanding of the common courtesy and respect for your neighbors that was learned while growing up in the Adirondacks. I learned to consider the importance of the other guy first.

After reading some of the comments recently appearing on Adirondack blogs, it appears there are some enthusiastic “guerilla paddlers,” just waiting in the wings for their chance to be the latest advocate on the new frontier of the paddler’s rights campaign.

It would be interesting to learn how many have already paddled the Raquette River in its entirety. I also wonder if they will attempt to complete the Raquette or the Hudson or the West Canada before attempting to tackle the mighty Shingle Shanty Brook.

I still do a lot of paddling, mostly on waters that are lightly traveled, such as the Bouquet, the Schroon, the Grasse and even the upper reaches of the Hudson. For the past 10 years or so, I’ve paddled the upper reaches of the Boquet for my first trip of the season. I have yet to encounter a single paddler on the route.

With the potential addition of nearly 70,000 acres of new state lands, I just don’t see much reason to seek access to private waters, other than to prove I can.

Maybe I’ll finally have a reason after exhausting all the floatable options available. But by then, I’ll be an old man, and it’s unlikely I could carry a boat through the “boneyards” of the Moose, the Beaver or some of the other “navigable in fact” waterways currently in use.

I regret that in the process of advocating for this issue, there does not appear to be much thought or regard for the rights of landowners or leaseholders. It almost appears to be a matter of “you’ve got yours, and I’ll be the next to test it.”

I’d like to believe Phil Brown took a little trip to Shingle Shanty Brook to see what he could see. He also took a friend along to photograph him on the opposite side of the Posted-No Trespassing signs.

Phil explained his intent was to get a story, but he ended up becoming the story after the property owners sued him.

As he related details of the effort, Phil stressed that, “I did not believe I was trespassing because I believed the stream was navigable in fact.” He repeated the phrase like a mantra, and even took the time to email me afterward to remind me that “I didn’t think I was trespassing because I believed the river was navigable in fact.”

According to a pamphlet published by the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, a former advocacy group, the phrasing of language is very important. The bar has been lowered; the standard is no longer whether the water is adequate to actually float a boat, it is if the paddler believes it is.

However, even if a person believes the waters are “navigable in fact,” it does not include the right to fish, hike, picnic or take photos on private lands or waters.

A similar lack of courtesy and concern for the rights of others was evident when the Adirondack Explorer was advocating for their Quiet Waters Campaign, which sought to ban the use of gas motors within the entire Fish Creek/Rollins Pond watershed. Back then, they lobbied for the right to have “quiet waters” to paddle, even if it took away the well-established recreational rights of others.

I guess they all believed in Quiet Waters too. How’d that go?