Summer storm brings bass, bear and birds

Over the weekend, I managed to get in a few days on the water with an old, young friend. Despite the threat of roving thunderstorms, we managed to shake free from any calamities more serious than a few dribbles from a passing shower and some herds of pestering deer flies.

After passing up on a chance to chastise some brookies on the streams, we decided to retreat into the interior in order to test our luck on a few remote bass ponds.

Ordinarily, I’d probably never consider humping into the woods to chase after bass, especially those of the largemouth variety. It’s always been much easier to chase after them from the comfortable deck of a pontoon boat, especially when there is a wide awning to offer shade.

On the other hand, I’ve always considered smallmouth bass to be deserving of such efforts, especially when a trip entails riding the river rather than packing over the trails.

Raquette River, the original highway of the Adirondacks, has often been one of my favorite haunts. I’ve spent many pleasant summer days drifting and casting to the river’s many denizens.

It has become a staple of my summer travels, although this year’s unusually high water has made the “lazy river days” a bit more challenging than usual. Some of the river floats that used to take me a full day to cover, have been condensed to a long afternoon due to the swift current.

As we set off overland last weekend to hit a few of the relatively unperturbed bass waters, there was a passing threat of bad weather, which in my experience is always a bonus when angling for bass. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed some of my most memorable bass fishing adventures during the brief few hours prior to a serious storm. And I’ve often discovered that the worse the weather pattern, the better the action.

Fortunately, we weren’t planning on a river run, or even a run of any sort. Our journey was to be a lazy walk along an old esker to a pond we knew already had a canoe on its shores.

As I set off with my young friend, we passed by a towering, old white pine that was situated along the west side of the long, steep esker. We noted the tree’s trunk had been shattered, and the long spiral scar betrayed the cause: obviously a severe lightning strike.

Pieces and parts of the old mossy behemoth were scattered across the forest floor as if someone had dropped a giant box of stick matches, except the matchsticks were 16-foot-long 4x4s.

We found the canoe as expected. As we set off, the pond’s surface was smooth glass. The dark waters reflected the billowing clouds in the distance, and we watched them grow in our mirrored view.

As predicted, our first casts were greeted with rapid, violent strikes. Although we were tossing senko worms, which are usually fished subsurface, the offerings rarely had a chance to sink to the bottom of the pond, which was less than a dozen feet deep at best.

We caught and released numerous large largemouths, and while our concerted concentration remained focused on the fishery, the darkening sky grew dark and darker. My ears began popping as the distant rumble of thunder grew closer. I yawned often to relieve the pressure, but it was of no use.

The waters grew flat, and the wind was at less than a whisper level. There was utter stillness in the leaves on the trees and on the water.

The only motion came from below the water’s surface in the form of wide-tailed, large-mouthed, five-finned projectiles. They were launching completely out of the water at our offerings.

As expected, the bass were doing their usual pre-storm dance, and they were hitting everything and anything tossed on the water. Often, it seemed they would hit a plug before it landed on the water. They may actually have been in competition.

I joked that I was worried to put my hand in the water, for fear I’d never be able to count to 10 on two hands again.

The bass were simply voracious, and our attention was single-mindedly absorbed in the quarry, until a rumbling in the distance actually shook the canoe.

“Time to go!” I hollered to my companion in the bow seat. Quickly, I spun the canoe around and hammered it hard toward the far shore.

Big plops of water shook the stillness of the flat surface as we ground our paddles toward solid ground. The raindrops were scattered, but they hit with such velocity it made a distinct “plop, plop, plop.”

We were on shore when the first strong winds whipped through. By then, we were huddled under the cover of our upturned canoe, which I had lashed to a pair of massive fallen pines left behind from a previous untold storm.

It was only 3 p.m. and the sun was still high in the sky, but daylight had instantly turned to near darkness as a huge bank of low-hanging clouds descended to hover just over the treetops.

An enveloping mist from the marsh seemed to blend with the low-lying clouds as the front rapidly moved in. There was actually a discernible “whoosh” of moving air, and my ears and sinuses were fluttering.

My young friend noticed it as well.

“Now you know what an air head experiences,” I joked. “How’d you like to experience this all the time?”

The passing wind didn’t shake the trees, or even flutter the leaves. It was moving air like a giant fan had been switched on to low power. It created a really odd sensation, almost as if there was a vacuum.

The air was light and still. We watched as an eerie fog filtered out of the bog and hung low over the water.

It took a while for my eyes to focus in the increasingly low light, and even longer for my sense of smell. There were also scents escaping from the marsh that I’d never known, nor that I ever care to experience again.

Settled a safe distance from the shore, we watched the natural light show, and felt the thunderous thunder rumble right under us. The rolling thunder actually shivered through the bog we were sitting on.

The storm passed by nearly as quickly as it had arrived. Almost immediately, the sun dared to peak out on the far horizon to deliver a gleaming “end-to-ender” rainbow that burst across the scene.

The rainbow, silhouetted against the low-hanging clouds, was absolutely brilliant and lasted but a few seconds. I was focused so intently, I didn’t even have time to capture a shot with my camera.

Lesson No. 1 of nature photography: Always be ready to shoot.

We packed up our gear and stashed the canoe before setting off over the long esker and back to the car.

In less than a mile’s travel, we encountered the first of more than a dozen trees that blocked our path. Unfortunately, I had not tossed in either a saw or an ax so the return trip was entailed a lot of hopping out to haul branches, limbs and even a few tree trunks out of the road.

Fortunately, I did have some straps to wrap and skid the larger logs out of our way before the darkness arrived.

After I remarked that game was likely to be stirring directly after the storm, we turned a corner and encountered a deer in the road. The doe stepped off and let us pass with nothing more than a flick of her tail.

Less than a mile further, I spotted a large bear standing in a field of blueberries. He spotted me as well, and turned tail and ran before I could get a shot.

As soon as I set the camera down, the big bruin again stood and glared at us, before lumbering off and disappearing into the bushes.

Lesson No. 2 of wildlife photography: Never set the damn camera down.

After dropping my fishing partner off at the family camp, I took a long, slow drive home. The sun was low, the breeze was still and the light was fantastic.

Just after I had I pulled off the side of the road for a quick visit to the bushes, I watched a large bird flying right down the highway corridor.

I recognized it immediately as a bald eagle. It was hunting, and as it drifted along at treetop level, I could almost count the pinfeathers on its broad tail. All I could do was admire it from a distance.

I think it was sporting a smirk on its yellow beak, but I’ll never know as my camera was left in the glove compartment while I was hiding in the bushes.

Lesson No. 3 of wildlife photography: Take your camera even when you have to pee, the birds don’t seem to mind.