Ausable on the Skids

The West Branch Ausable River, in the Adirondacks of New York, isn’t really on the skids, it just seemed that way the past few days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As the summer days heat up, the temperature of the river water naturally rises to the point where it stresses some of the trout, so the fishing starts to wane, even in the morning and evening hours.

In early July the river level was dropping toward the normal zone as the late June flush began to pass. Two young men had recently drowned while testing out the waters of the Flume above Wilmington. Peering into that gorge while passing by with a fly rod in hand, I wasn’t surprised that another tragedy occurred.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Monday evening, in the tannic flow of the boulder-studded catch-and-release water near the Flume, I missed the rise of a large trout leaping for the fast drift of my Rusty Spinner dry.

Next morning, my friend Walt came to visit from Vermont and we hit the river without delay. I caught a small brown trout below the dam at Wilmington but the water temp had risen to 70 degrees, so we decided to head upstream. The special regs water begins near the Lake Placid ski jumps, and the river there was more congenial to our efforts. It was cooler and very comfortable in the fir-scented air. The songs of white-throated sparrows punctuated the mountain scenery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was comfortable, but there was little sign of hungry trout. We decided to try a small feeder stream nearby, a brook choked with fallen trees and boulders. Exchanging my “Founders’ Rod,” an 8.6-ft. bamboo, for a tiny stick of Fenwick glass, I followed Walt into the wilderness. We didn’t get far but we each managed to fool a brook trout.

Traveling toward the headwaters of the West Branch, we stopped to fish a section near the highway. Again, the fishing was slow. Persistence was the key to Walt’s success while working a deep hole from his stand behind a boulder.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had taken a seat on a nearby rock to remove the water from my leaking waders. I had just removed my shoes when a brown trout took the beadhead nymph that Walt had OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAoffered. He hollered for the use of my net, but it was in the car. I rushed from my position on the bank hoping to get a decent photo of the fish. I learned that neoprene socks do not get a solid grip on glacial stone.

On the skids, I fell forward and down. Between rocks the size of chairs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI tore a thumbnail, scraped an arm and hip, saw my life flash by on another planet, and put a small dent in the little camera I was holding. Luckily, my head missed smacking into granite, and yeah, I did get a couple of smiling Walt pics on my trusty old Olympus.

My friend hit the homeward trail that evening after our Switchback Ale and burgers in Saranac Lake. I went back to pounding the Ausable, missing a couple of large fish at dusk, despite an apparent lack of hatch activity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next morning I made a reverent approach to the renowned pool at Shadow Rock and finally caught a nice brown on a tiny beadhead. As I said, the fishing was slow, but the outing itself (although a bit treacherous at times) proceeded at a happy pace.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADSCN4506

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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14 Responses to Ausable on the Skids

  1. Bob Stanton says:

    This is what I’m talking about when I say that fishing is hard and dangerous work. I think that when I say that I like to fish, people envision me sitting in a lawn chair, with a six pack and a couple of fishing rods on forked sticks(not that there’s anything wrong with that).

  2. Where the only real danger is falling out of your chair… Exactly, Bob. A lot of folks have no idea. I once told a teacher that I fly-fish, and her eyes opened wide with “You do WHAT?” thinking I was just another perv. Anyway, it can be work. I’m glad the law doesn’t say we need to wear hardhats. Today I was on Cedar Run, again, and I stepped from a pool right into a branch that missed breaking my glasses by an inch or two. But, we gotta love it….

  3. LQN says:

    Walt – just got back from the Ausable myself. Surprised I didn’t bump into you on the river! Tough fishing for me as well, few bugs… I only managed a handful during my stay on dry flies at dusk. Beautiful area nevertheless, I always enjoy my stay up there.

    • Would’ve enjoyed meeting you up there, Long! Sounds like we had similar experiences with the trout and the lack of hatches. But yes, beautiful river and mountains, always worth the time and effort. Glad you had some fun.

  4. From my numerous backpacking adventures, I learned to respect those fast-flowing mountain rivers. Crossing them is a challenge. Add a rod to the mix and I’m pretty sure I could manage a hospital visit or worse. My hat’s off to you for being nimble enough to wade and fish them.

    • Jim, I’m not always so nimble anymore, but as you say, those big mountain rivers have to be respected or they’ll turn you upside down real fast. Much of the Ausable’s West Branch is considered to be especially treacherous, like walking on bowling bowls, with the river pushing on you. But it is exciting when the fish are on the feed.

  5. Joseph Hord says:

    Sounds like a great trip! It seems like I come home from trout fishing bruised and skinned up more often than not, and I’ve gotten some strange looks from people who see the after effects of a trout trip while I’m going on and on about how much fun I’ve had. I just have to smile because to me it’s a small price to pay for getting to experience the mountains and the fish.

  6. Thanks Joseph! Yes it is the price we pay for rich experience out of doors, and worth it, too, as long as the price is “small.”

  7. Mark W says:

    Walt – you had me worried there for a minute with the title of your post. Hope you are on the mend from your tumble. I fished at shadow rock for 90minutes last October and had a few browns and brookie take me for a ride downstream fishing isonychia’s. Would love to get back there soon!

    • Sorry Mark, I’d thought that perhaps an Ausable devotee would see that title and think, “And now what?” That’s why I hastened a disclaimer. But you were fortunate to fish the river in October. I’ve never been able to get up there in fall. Maybe some year. Yeah I’m fine now. And thanks for reading!

  8. Alan says:

    Walt it’s nice to fish waters with such wonderful histories. Glad the mishap caused no major injuries.
    I love seeing Frans favorite The Ausable Wullf in the rod holder.

  9. Alan, the fishing history attached to a stream or river like the West Branch adds immeasurable pleasure to the experience, as you know. The Ausable Wulff dry fly was fished religiously on this outing. Fran’s favorite was effective once again.

  10. Mike says:

    Glad you were just “dented” and not broken! Sounds like a great time and what beautiful pics!

  11. Me, too, Mike. Occasional dents and bruises are a part of the fun when you dare stretch out beyond the easy access points, but knock on wood, I haven’t broken anything yet while fishing. At my age, it pays to be ever vigilant. You never know. Hey, thanks for reading me and commenting!

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