Fly fishing, friends and an old fish
The Adirondacks have a long and storied history of angling adventures that date back more than a century and a half, and some of these stories just must be told.
With more than 30,000 miles of streams and rivers, and an estimated 4,500 lakes, backwoods ponds and beaver flows, the Park has a wide range of water-based opportunities. In fact, the most difficult decision is often where to go, for there are simply too many good choices.
I prefer to seek out the small, remote mountain streams, while veteran anglers like my old friend Jim like to fish the larger, better-known rivers.
Each watershed is unique, with a character all its own, and yet they are all similar in the sense that they flow from a dome of anorthrocite, set upon a vast landscape which was shaped and softened under the weight and scouring effects of retreating glaciers.
It was a glacial retreat that rounded off our mountains and gave them a softer, more inviting presence than the more jagged Rockies or the knife-edged Alps. As a result of this scouring action, our streams and rivers, lakes and ponds were formed, as were innumerable waterfalls and gorges.
It simply couldn’t have been designed any better if the angling gods themselves had attempted to create such a place.
It is also fortunate that many of our local trout waters are easily accessible, often with nearby roadside access or just a short “carry” away.
For a majority of anglers, such settings are ideal for either a quick respite or a full afternoon of angling entertainment. There is never a lack of opportunity.
However, there are certain individuals who prefer to practice the art of the casting craft at a distance. And that distance is generally measured by the elbow room afforded between them and all the other practitioners of the craft.
“It is not simply trout that I seek, rather it is the journey I must take up to seek them in their mountain lairs,” explained my old friend as we headed off to the river.
Most anglers take great delight in their watery work, during which an audience is often simply an interruption in waiting. It is the trout, donned in a garb of speckles glowing in the clear waters and chased by wide tail, that is the only audience desired.
Typically, the first sign of a trout’s presence is a slight stirring of the waters, or maybe the gentle sound of a light splash. This unique sound is actually a sweet note to the experienced rodster. His adrenaline begins to flow as the intensity of a simple splash turns into a violent slash while large trout batter bumbling mayflies as they seek to escape the watery grave.
It is these moments, with rises occurring up and down a stream, that a true angler’s resolve is tested. So often, the temptation is to chase after the rising fish, hound them, work ’em and pound them down.
But it is experience that leads to the finest fight, and it is a wise rodman that’s willing to wait.
Trout may continue to rise, but it is the older, wizened, watery warriors who are willing to wait until darkness has fallen before setting off to seek their fair share of fair-finned offerings.
In such situations, veterans of the long rod often rest on a large rock in the middle of the flow, waiting for the stars to appear in the ever-darkening sky.
All the others will depart, one or two at a time, their appetites quenched by the shear number of trout taken, even though there barely a foot-long fish was landed between them.
I watch as the last of the tail lights tally off down the road and into the distant darkness, while a lone angler finally steadies himself against the flowing current. Strengthened by his resolve and comfortable in the solitude of a river free of all annoyances, I found him there with a silly grin on his face, swaying to the music of the moment and rocking gently to the rhythm of the long rod.
Sounds on the once lively waters will grow low, and it is the loud splashes he will seek, moving slowly against the current, creeping and stalking while patiently awaiting his moment.
Then it occurs. There is a notable splash, less than 20 yards distant. And then it hits again.
In the faint darkness of the withering daylight he spots it. The rings of a rise are reflected in the stillwater of a small pool, just off the main flow.
He knows that a small, cold mountain creek tumbles into the flow just upstream of the rings, and his cast must be perfect, so as not to spook the pool.
Slowly at first, his fly line sails off into the evening air. Longer and longer the loops travel, tracing a fanciful flight-path across the darkening sky, and he wonders, “Will it still be there? Will the hook set well?”
Back and forth he sways with the flowing water until finally he sends off a fluttering pinch of fur and feathers into the darkness, and watches it settle on the flow.
Immediately there is a slash, and a large form is visible against the black background. He sets the hook firmly, and listens as the line tightens under his finger and the drag begins to sing.
I can’t see his face, but I’m sure he wears a wide grin. He is where he wants to be.
There will be no chasing upstream after a big trout tonight. He will make the fish come to him.
It is a see-saw battle – give a little and take it back. He knows the old fish won’t tire easily, due to its cold, oxygen-rich perch at the mouth of a seep creek.
A few cars pass along on the roadside, oblivious to the battle being waged just a few yards away. Man against beast, seeking a freedom that is known to no one.
He’s breathing heavy now, and the trout has given back all of the line it previously took. I can hear his pants as the fish is getting closer.
It hasn’t yet capitulated, but he has noticed its wide, dark sides glistening at a distance in the faint moonlight.
Despite the rush of adrenaline, he remains poised in expectation of what he knows full well will likely be his trophy catch of the season. He has stalked this quarry for several years, and now it is nearly in his net.
The long rod arcs sharply against the dark sky as he powers the fish toward it. It comes to him easily, with fins slowed and the body slightly off kilter.
The recent rash of slash rises just downstream didn’t even interest him. His focus is solely on the fish at the end of his line.
“Come to the net. Easy now,” he whispers. “No creel time for you, just a quick visit and you can return to your rock by the creek.”
His net was already in the water as the large-bodied brown trout passed over it, shadowed by a quivering fly rod. Silently, the battle-worn veteran turned on its side.
“The fight is over,” he proclaims. “A five pounder if it’s an ounce.”
Yet, as he bends over to cup the trophy, he slips. His rod falls and the net hits the water again.
He scrambles to upright himself but loses balance again and plunges headlong into the pool.
Eventually, he wades out of the stream with fresh, cold mountain water still sloshing about in his waders. The rod tip is broken, and he’s lost his lucky fly. It was one of the last his old friend had tied for him, before he left home.
He is wet, cold, frustrated and a bit embarrassed for making such a rookie mistake. In days past, he would never have let it happen. But now all he can do was laugh, at himself and at the fish.
While stripping of the wet waders, he mumbles something under his breath that sounds distinctly like a threat to me.
“No, hell no! You know I’d never do that to you, Jim. I’d never write a story about the evening you lost the biggest fish you’d ever caught!”
“And you know, there’s no need to threaten me, either. It was a nice catch, and very entertaining!”