Watching and waiting in anticipation of ice-out

North Country anglers currently have all eyes focused on the ponds as they await the arrival of ice-out.

It has been an odd season, with some of the typically frozen ponds (Cascades) opening up while some of the open lakes (Lake Flower) remain frozen.

I have spoken with a few lucky anglers who found open water after venturing into the ponds on snowshoes. The openings were mostly in channels where currents weakened the ice and along the southeastern shorelines where the sun and the wind have combined to open up small pockets among the downed timber.

It has always been a guessing game for when the ice will finally depart, and this year is no different. Based on what I have observed, it will be at least another week before I’ll even bother to take the boats off the rack

The most productive angling opportunities are still likely to be found near the inlets and outlets of local lakes and ponds, where the smelt, and later the suckers, will be concentrated for their annual spawning run.

Although Canada geese have been around for more than a week already, I have yet to hear the call of a loon echoing from the ponds. But I keep listening, and my gear is already packed.

Packing in

The Adirondack region offers backwoods travelers more angling opportunities than I care to mention. As a result, the need for a lightweight portable boat has long been an important means of access. It remains between a man or woman and their map to discover the wealth of opportunities for “off the beaten path” waters.

I’m often asked the best method for accessing these waters. My response is typically guarded since the purpose and duration of the journey often dictates the type of boat to be used.

For trips of longer duration with heavier loads, I recommend an Adirondack guideboat or a canoe with oars. For journeys that require more portage than paddling, I look for something that is light on my back and can fit in a pack, which is typically an inflatable.

Over the years, a variety of watercraft have been designed to achieve the ideal portable boat for Adirondack travel. Enthusiasts have tried everything, from fragile egg-shell thin white, cedar-planked guideboats to lightweight frame and skin folding boats. Thre are also inflatables, cedar strip and epoxy designs and kevlar, carbon fiber and air core models.

Nearly every combination of materials, methods and design has been tested to build to a boat that offers the portability, performance and durability necessary to access the most remote waters of the Park.

Many of the region’s remote ponds are stocked with brook trout each year by helicopter, yet they receive very little angling pressure. The degree of difficulty in accessing a pond is often directly proportional to the quality of the fishery. The more difficult it is to access, the better the quality of the fishing. Understandably, this is due to a lack of fishing pressure.

Despite the increase in the number of people fishing today, it is still quite easy to find a pond all to yourself. But you have to be willing to put in the effort. Most higher elevation trout ponds will maintain low water temperatures for most of the season and the action can be outstanding. The trick to fishing these waters is accessibility, which can only be achieved with a small canoe, or better yet with a pack raft.

Fishermen hiking in to remote waters find that they can’t reach the deeper, more productive waters by casting from the shoreline. Additionally, shore-based anglers have difficulty finding the open areas necessary to allow a cast. More often than not, the shorelines of these ponds are scattered with downed trees, which can prevent the landing of a big fish.

Over the years, I have used a number of portable boats, including Hornbeck’s ultra-lightweight, 14-pound “Lost Pond” pack canoe, as well as Sea Eagle two-person inflatable rafts, which feature several air chambers and oar locks.

Pack canoes work well on the water but have proven to be unwieldy when struggling up steep terrain through heavy blowdown and thick balsam or spruce. The advantage of an inflatable is that it can be carried in a backpack, where it is protected from damage.

For many years, I considered the ideal craft to effectively fish remote waters to be an inflatable raft. The rafts keep the angler above water, unlike belly boats or float tubes that require the fisherman to wear waders and dangle his legs in the water. Rafts also permit anglers to troll quite easily with the oars. Rafts also permit casting from a more elevated position than a “tuber.”

Most importantly, rafts are easily carried, with most constructed of high-quality PVC and multiple air chambers. A two-person raft, which comfortably handles one adult, weighs in at about 13 to 17 pounds, rolls up to the size of a large sleeping bag and is easily attached to a pack frame.

However with no keel, rafts tend to drift about in the wind which effectively limits their use to relatively small, windless bodies of water. As a result of this drawback, I was pleasantly surprised to find a new inflatable product on the market which is manufactured by Stearns.

This new two-person inflatable canoe is a 12-foot, multi air-chambered canoe that is capable of handling loads of up to 500 pounds. Best of all, it features a built-in keel to help the canoe track well, which also serves to keep the canoe from drifting about in the wind.

It comes equipped with two inflatable seats with padded backrests. The seats are adjustable and secure to the canoe with velcro tabs. Like a raft, it also offers the angler an elevated casting platform. But unlike a raft or pack canoe, where you sit on the floor, these seats keep your legs and bottom elevated so you do not get cold from contact with the bottom of the boat.

Another invaluable element featured on the Stearns canoe is a 600 denier – heavy tarpaulin, outer skin covering the 28-gauge PVC air chambers. This is a marked improvement over typical PVC inflatables that stiffen with cold temperatures and can puncture quite easily.

Most remote ponds have viable beaver populations and their sharp ended chewings often present inflatable users with a nearly unavoidable opportunity to search for the patch kit. Stearns has guarded against this by wrapping the canoe with a thick, tough skin that includes two abrasion rails to protect from unseen obstructions. This durability is recognizable.

At a weight of about 35 pounds, the two-person canoe is comparable to a couple of solo canoes or pack rafts. Additionally, while most pack canoes are intended for solo use, the Stearns canoe can easily handle two large adults.