A Week on the Ausable, Part 1

As the rain tapped assuredly on top of our big old camper, I relaxed and decided it was good to be off the electric grid for a week. But the West Branch Ausable River near Lake Placid, New York was already flowing at boulder-rocking strength near camp, and we really didn’t need much rain at this point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the bottom of Whiteface Mountain, at Hemlock Pool in the artificials-only water, the West Branch had already registered a 68 degree F. reading, an indication of the challenges we trout anglers would face in upcoming days.

On Sunday morning we waded across the tannic waters cascading noisily toward Lake Champlain. We crossed the river step-by-step among rocks like bowling balls. We fished hard with wets and giant stonefly nymphs and then recrossed the river toward the truck. At that point we went under one by one. Conrad was the first to flounder and go down. “I won’t lie to you,” he’d say. “That river scared the *%#@ out of me!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt Wilmington’s Ausable Two Fly Shop, Conrad bought a patch kit for his waders and laughed about spitting the Ausable through his teeth. His son Adam, and I, restocked our fly boxes with some local favorites like the Ausable Bomber and Ausable Wulff. After lunch and one of several thunderstorms to appear in the next few days, we tackled the famous Shadow Rock Pool. There a nice rainbow took my stonefly imitation and we paused for the netting, photo, and release.

The next day we recouped from the fast water challenges by fishing on the upstreamOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA flats. Although the West Branch is renowned for hatches spring through fall, it was starting to get obvious that water conditions had changed recently and that mayfly and caddis hatches would be scarce while we investigated this north country river. In one sense our work would be simplified. We could focus on the stonefly hatch until something else appeared.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat evening we fished below the dam in Wilmington, wandering along the Firehouse Run on angler paths and entering into stretches of pocket water that at other times of the season would be idyllic dry fly territory. The Bomber accounted for a number of stocked browns that rose to the surface, but the hatch activity was minimal. An approaching storm chased us back to camp where Leighanne and BettyJean tended fire and unwrapped the chops as the heavy sky knelt down to earth.

On Tuesday afternoon, Adam and I descended into the gorge below camp and fished upriver toward High Falls. This twisting, turning, boulder-studded section of Adirondack river is my favorite piece of the West Branch, but we had to fish it from the rocky edge. Here, Bergman Run is named for Ray Bergman, author of the flyfishing classic Trout (The Penn Publishing Company, 1938). It’s hard to imagine an eastern fly water in a more scenic location.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Although we’d catch no trout on this mid-morning jaunt, an evening would come when I would catch both browns and brook trout here. Under the pristine slopes of Whiteface Mountain and its forest of hemlock, cedar, pine, and fir, it was good to chase a river dream through the pockets of tumbling water.


About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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10 Responses to A Week on the Ausable, Part 1

  1. Leigh says:

    Sounds like a wonderful adventure.

  2. Long says:

    Fantastic, I love that area, was up in there for memorial day. Faced very similar conditions, extremely high water.

    • Thanks, Long, for commenting. Similar conditions with the water, perhaps, but at least you were there when the fishing and the hatches were stronger. Nonetheless, the Ausable is always an adventure.


  3. argosgirl says:

    As always, beautiful writing. I felt like I was there. Sounds like a wonderful trip, I can’t wait for the next part!

  4. Joseph Hord says:

    Part 1 sounded like a great start to the trip! That last picture of the river looked like it would make for a challenging time fishing. I’m glad that you were able to catch some!

    • Bob Stanton says:

      Wow! That last pic looks more suited to whitewater kayaking or rafting than fishing. Given the conditions, I’d say it’s no small triumph that you’d caught fish at all. I applaud your determination…and everybody’s swimming ability! The scenery, of course, is beautiful. As they say, trout don’t live in ugly places. Nice post, Walt!

      • Yessirree, Bob, the last pic comes in after the rain that would’ve sent us floating Lake Champlain if we’d set foot in it then. A pontoon might’ve been fun to ride, though, until you hit that first big waterfall!


    • Joseph, the bottom picture is from the morning after the rain that put the big kibosh on fishing. Story coming soon!


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