Late Tuesday, we checked out the water in the lower catch-and-release section above the Flume and the Hungry Trout Restaurant. As noted in A Week on the Ausable, Part 1, we’d been getting storms each day, and fly-fishing conditions on the West Branch were “touch-and-go.” In this case, we touched the river with our eyes; we saw that the water was still fishable, and so we suited up.
Again the river was warm, fast, rocky, and hell-on-wheels for wading. Again the hatches were unseen until I noticed a few egg-laying mayflies over the far bank. I attached a Creme Spinner tied that afternoon, and watched it float beside the whitecaps from my ill-gained position at mid-river.
A good fish rose and took the fly. I had my hands full as I worked the trout up and down
while trying to regain the bank. Somewhere out among the rocks and boulders I managed to trip over my wading staff. To my chagrin, the staff had worked its way between my legs. I went over it and down to my neck in the Ausable, but finally the brown was in the net. Adam had been close enough to approach me and take a photo. Thankfully nothing more of this peculiar river dance has been captured for the record.
The next couple of days were mostly spent upriver in the quieter flow. They consisted of pleasant explorations under cloudy sky and with occasional breaks of rain or sunlight. They were river hours spent near Bassett Flats or Monument Falls or pools within sight of the Olympic Ski Jumps near Lake Placid.
The River Road offered quiet pull-offs, a retreat from the traffic noise along Route 86. These were places where we could cast our lines in peace and restfulness. Here we could watch the West Branch riffles and Olympic trainees biking past us on the road. Here we could listen to the warblers and winter wrens, and to the white-throated sparrows piping Old-Sam-Pea-body notes among the birch and balsam firs.
On Thursday, while the others took a ferry across Lake Champlain into Burlington, Vermont, Adam and I fished the upper catch-and-release water near the Holcomb Pond Outlet. I had just purchased an old 6-foot fly rod from our camp host and I wanted it for tight angling situations on an Adirondack feeder stream.
While Adam started in on the river itself, I wandered upstream on a brook with tight casting quarters and with several deep holes. Tossing a Stimulator dry fly, often from a crouch position with a bow cast under weeping branches, I was in my element. One needn’t move far on these mountain streams to feel snugged-in with the wild. And soon my first dark-toned native came to hand.
The river offered relatively easy wading nearby. There were deep pools with sandy bottoms. There were riffles that contained few rocks or boulders, but the water temperature remained a little high, compromising our potential for trout. By late afternoon the first rumbles of thunder could be heard, and by 6 p.m. the rain began in earnest. Little did we know that it would fall continuously for 20 hours.
Friday morning we stood beneath the awning while sipping hot coffee and contemplating ways that five inches of rain impacts the environment. Watching puddles grow around our feet, we knew that all the water compromised our plans for the day, including a hike to Owens Pond for trout.
The forecast didn’t sound good either, but the rain tapered off by noon, surprisingly enough. I dropped down into the gorge to investigate the roaring West Branch. There the crush of brown rising water waved itself over rocks from which we’d done our casting only two nights before.
“When we were kids we could sometimes fish and swim there by the edge of the falls,” said a fellow camper who knew the area well. Today, with a camera in hand, I felt uneasy creeping to the water’s edge or to peer down at the falls. Standing on a little outcrop over the river, I had to ask myself, like a silly paranoid, if I had any enemies on the prowl. If so, I’d better watch my back. No point in becoming a carcass bound for Lake Champlain.
This was nature in the raw. A big, brutal, lovely nature flexing its mountain muscle. It was wildness, that eternal but elusive quality of earth and soul that I reveled in. It was life at the quick. And as long as everyone was safe, it was what I’d come to the Adirondacks for.