Marking the Territory: Canadice Lake

It seems that over the past few years I’ve made an annual, half-hearted attempt to catch a lake trout with an artificial fly, something I’ve yet to accomplish with success. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s not that lakers are particularly difficult to take with a fly, it’s just that… I’m not a lake fisherman, I’m a stream and river guy, a fish out water when I’m faced with miles of stuff that stays in place and doesn’t flow anywhere. And let’s not talk about my timing for lake trout adventures, or the skill level required to hook one of these North American chars.

It was a beautiful day, and that’s what counts… For upstate New York, it was a first truly spring day, with sunshine, still air, and temperature climbing into the 60s. Good for lake trout fishing, maybe.

I wanted some new angling territory, so I drove to Canadice Lake, my favorite of the Finger Lakes, a cold glacially-toned water that, for some reason, I’ve never fished before.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was marking new ground, perhaps– leaving a boot track on the wild eastern shore, learning something about this place, putting something of my essence on the lake (okay, like a cat or a dog lifting a tail or a leg), an action that says, “I was here. I’m probably harmless but I’m letting you know, nonetheless.”

All this makes me think of our beloved family pet of 13 years, Mustache the Kat, who died the other day and was laid to rest on our hill beside Brook the Dogg.

Mustache was an indoor/outdoor animal with human-like characteristics given to him by those whose lives he enriched. Mustache loved to mark his territory.

For instance, one time I was standing with him on our driveway when we saw a black bear ambling toward us from a distant bend in the road. Taking heed, Mustache lowered himself defensively. With head pointed and with measured steps, he growled as if to say, “I’ll take care of this; you stay here.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“No!” I commanded. “Mustache, get OVER here!” I felt like telling him something else… I might be stupid and only human, but I wasn’t born yesterday, damnit. I grabbed him about the same time that the bear finally saw us and no doubt felt intimidated by a two-legged being and a miniature lion.

Whereas our cat marked his territory with defiance toward a bear, I looked at the lovely Canadice Lake and faced the spectacle of Time, of Chronos, the great creator and devourer. Time had a way about himself, as if to say, enjoy this scene fully, my friend; this lake is wild as a bear and it’s alive, like you, but only for a while.

Canadice is the smallest of New York’s eleven Finger Lakes, with a shoreline of about seven miles, an area of 649 acres and a maximum depth of 83 feet. It’s the highest of the lakes in elevation, and it’s the wildest and remotest of all the Finger Lakes, despite being only 30-35 miles south of urban Rochester. Along with neighboring Hemlock Lake,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Canadice serves the water needs of Rochester and, thus, is protected on state forest lands.

I had noticed that ice still covered the shallow north end. While standing in the lake near a canoe launch site on the eastern shore, I felt the cold water pressing tightly at my breathable waders. It was quiet here: no camps on the lake, no boats, no human voices other than that of a hiker or two traversing the trail on the west side of the water, half a mile away.

A gull screeched and a pileated woodpecker chortled from the pine-studded forest on the western hills, but that was it. If I hadn’t known otherwise, I could’ve been casting on a pristine lake in the Adirondacks.

When an angler takes the time to detail a description like this, you can figure that the fishing was probably crap. And it was today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo brown, rainbow or vaunted lake trout came to the streamers that I played on a stout leader and a sinking line. It was still too cold in the lake and too peaceful in this lovely valley for success. At least that’s how I saw it then.

The lakers come close to shore in the early spring and in the fall when it’s spawning time. They are wild fish here in Canadice, and unless I get a float-tube or some other naval device, they probably won’t see me again till… next year?

The enjoyment that I got from this visit to the lake was my “marking” of the territory. I figure that the place is mine to return to when the next small window of opportunity presents itself.

With that, I’ll sound one final note about our old cat and his territory, and the red fox…

DSCN1815A fox had walked up from the creek near the house and was crossing the road, but he got noticed by our feline guardian.

I’d been mowing the lawn at the time but stopped the motor when I saw a pickup truck come to a halt nearby. The driver, window down, was laughing. I turned to see a fox running up the road then stopping to turn its head. Whoa, the cat was still in full pursuit! The fox bolted across the yard, and Mustache pulled up near the truck where the driver sat amused and shaking his head…

All I could do, I guess, was to call the cat over, scratch his ears, and get back to mowing– one of the ways I feed the great Creator, the Devourer whose name is Time, and try to slow down his advance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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22 Responses to Marking the Territory: Canadice Lake

  1. Brent says:

    All across Greenwood, the wild animals are observing a moment of silence for Mustache and the feral cats are nodding in quiet respect, while observing that the Franklin place is back on limits for their prowling.

    • Yup the wild ones are observing some quiet; the deer have stepped one by one into the dog’s old yard to bow and give respects; the squirrels and chipmunks are just kind of staggering around, and the old Geezer in charge of yard propriety is warning any feral cat to think twice before sliding in…

  2. Les Kish says:

    That was some cat! And, crappy fishing notwithstanding, you captured some nice shots of a placid lake.

    • That cat was quite a character, Les, but really sweet with the humans who looked after him. As for the lake, it’s a dandy and I really should look into giving it a whirl in warmer weather, say, in a couple weeks or so. Thanks for reading and weighing in!

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    Walt, sorry about Mr. Mustache. As I’d commented on Brent’s blog, we laid our cat Simba to rest this past summer, and the place still isn’t the same without him. He was a character too. I don’t think he ever realized that he wasn’t a human. Canadice looks beautiful – I can envision Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook paddling a canoe across its placid surface.

  4. It’s always a pleasure to read your reflections. Speaking of Canadice Lake, Nigel Kent, a Rochester-based scenic photographer has a wonderful gallery (

  5. Bob, I know what you mean. I’ve never been a “cat person” though I’ve greatly admired the true wild cats forever. But a cat like Simba or Mustache just grows into your being and becomes a special creature. I’d say this goes for other domestics, as well, especially dogs (in my experience). These “human spirits” will live with us forever.
    I think you’d really like Canadice as a place to float your kayak (?) and go drifting. I’m thinking that maybe even a belly-boat would do nicely there, as motorized vessels are, for the most part, not allowed.

  6. howardlevett says:

    Great story! My first or second time here. Rest in peace Mustache.

  7. Gramps says:

    Hello, Walt! Really enjoyed reading about your adventure on Canadice Lake. Sure a beautiful area even if the fishing was not up to snuff yet. Trying to fish big water (lakes) is a real issue for me, too. That is why I prefer fishing ponds and small lakes along with The Big Thompson River near home.
    By the way, isn’t it amazing how our furry friends are truly part of our memory’s and reflection. Your cat sounds like a special one.

    • Thanks Mel, glad that you enjoyed it. The Finger Lakes perplex my fishing efforts: these beautiful waters hold some excellent opportunities for fishing– if you like really big lakes. Like you, I prefer ponds and streams. They seem more personal and present more personal choices for the sport. But I live near them, so they’re always in my view somehow, and they do offer some alluring possibilities. Your area is just right for ponds and small lake fishing.
      As for the cat, yeah, he was something else, and in a sense, still is. Thanks again!

  8. Mike says:

    I was at it for Lakers myself this past Sunday although not on the fly. No matter, they didn’t want shiners or metal either, Walt. You nailed it that the water temps need to climb a bit. Once I see a bit of green and pastels in the trees, we’ll be in business. Both rivers and lakes will wake to nature. I’m sorry Mr.Mustache has taken his sleep in nature. Sounds like a hell of a cat.

    • Mike, Interesting to hear that you went for lakers on the same day, albeit with hardware–no matter– great minds, or fools, think alike, heh? Yeah I’m starting to get interested in a possible return there when the waters warm a little. Fishing’s got to get only better… Thanks for the kind words, friend.

  9. loydtruss says:

    A special cat indeed–this lake reminds me of my home waters, super clear, deep and a challenge to fish—big difference, no trout in my lake, but some say it could support trout because of the cold water temps. year round. The brush, boulders, logs, and other structure would be the logical areas to fish, along the shoreline. I would have to go back when the water warms some and fish this awesome looking lake with a floatable vessel. Who know there could be a mount size trout waiting——–Thanks for sharing

    • Good advice there, Bill, encouraging, too. This lake would be perfect with a small vessel. It’s got the potential for some interesting fishing while enjoying the natural history of the place. Thanks much!

  10. Cat-titude! Love ’em or hate ’em, the great thing about cats is that they really don’t give a damn what you think. I’m sure Mustache went to his grave believing he could have whipped that bear’s ass if you hadn’t stopped him.

    • Cat-titude, for sure Jim! This one had it, with an equal measure of feline felicity in the company of our household or with visitors. Yeah, it didn’t matter to him– bear, fox, coon, or bully feral cat– he’d whup ’em, if he had to.

  11. Mark W says:

    Walt – sorry to hear about your cat!

    You had me laughing when I read “When an angler takes the time to detail a description like this, you can figure that the fishing was probably crap. And it was today”. I like you, am not a still water fisherman so even the smallest of lakes presents a daunting sea of possibilities. Where to start?

    • Mark– That’s the question, where to start when on these waters in exploratory mode, and not really interested in hiring a guide. The small streams can absorb our close-up attentions readily, but on the big water our gaze goes beyond, and when the fish don’t bite, well, it helps to have other interests. Thank you.

  12. Doug Paugh says:

    that’s awesome Walt. I’ve had a few of those instances myself.

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