Double Focus

Someone recently asked if I could do a small post on the Adirondack fishing scene of late because he hadn’t been able to get up into the mountains for a while. I thought it over and decided I could probably do that even though my late-August visit to the West Branch Ausable River didn’t leave me much to write about, other than what you might have seen on my previous post.

white-knuckling on Going-to-the-Sun Road

The Adirondacks form the premier wilderness region of the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic states. It’s an eight-hour drive from my home to the Lake Placid area of the Adirondacks, so I don’t often visit the mountains, although I’ve hiked and fished a fair amount of them over the years… On this occasion I could fish the West Branch only for a few days of early morning and evening hours (plus a non-productive midday venture). photo– Wikipedia

I still had my earlier, western trip in mind, but found that fly-fishing on the West Branch was a good way to help me get refocused on my home ground. There were fires raging throughout the American West and there were major hurricanes brewing near and far, but my thoughts about the Rocky Mountains and the prairie came from a greener time when environmental stressors weren’t as obvious. These meditations balanced comfortably with what I saw while casting for trout in the boulder-studded Ausable.

moose, Colorado River, RMNP

So, I’m serving up a schizophrenic stew. I’m thinking Adirondacks… for which I’m lacking photographs… but sharing more pictures of the West. I’m living in the present, mostly, but still dreaming of the summer road. My god. I hope the stew is palatable.

The Adirondack Park of northern New York is a blend of wilderness and small town civilization, of mountain land and water, both public and private, now celebrating its 125th year of preservation. The park’s six-million acres of wilderness with private inholdings were rescued from the logging and the mineral-extraction industries of the late nineteenth-century.

the Rambler fishing Avalanche Creek, MT

The Adirondacks form the largest state park in America, a land mass larger than Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and Great Smoky national parks combined, and nearly half of it belongs to New York residents whose constitution protects it as “forever wild.”

There are no gates or admission fees to the Adirondack Park. The public is always welcome to hike, hunt, camp, fish, or otherwise enjoy the land for free. It doesn’t get much better than that. Many of us who have enjoyed the pristine Adirondacks or have known about them are grateful to those visionaries of the late 1800s who helped establish one of this country’s most storied environmental legacies.

looking down on McDonald Creek, GNP, MT

When I visit the Adirondacks on a fishing trip, I typically head straight for the Saranac/Lake Placid area where I swing out to the West Branch Ausable River. I forego the comforts to be found there, the numerous motels, lodges and cabins, in favor of a simple tenting set-up on a state campground with easy access to the river.

This August I arrived there in the evening, pitched my tent, and bought some coffee at nearby Wilmington for an early start next morning. Then I hit the river, hoping to catch the “evening rise.”

the Denver wilderness, downtown, looking from hotel window

The Ausable was typical for this time of year– low but rapid in the special regulations water found between the Flume and the access to the Whiteface Mountain ski area. Even with low water in this stretch, the Ausable has lots of rocks and boulders of assorted sizes making it fast and furious at times. Is there an American trout stream anywhere that’s more difficult to safely wade? Not in my experience (although the upper East Fork Bitterroot comes to mind…)

writer fishing Rio Santa Barbara, NM

As long as you’re stepping carefully (think, wading staff), the West Branch is a friendly river, especially in late season. The Slate Drake mayfly (Isonychia bicolor) is hatching profusely in the evenings now and often carrying over through the morning hours. The fishing may be slower than in May and June with that season’s great variety of  hatches, but it’s often a lively occasion.

I had help from my friend, Walt McLaughlin, who came out from his home in northern Vermont. We enjoyed some interesting hours on and off the river. Though our catch was rather modest, there were browns and rainbows reaching the 15 and 16-inch mark. It was fun to watch these trout leap from the white-capped flow to grab a dry fly drifting past. It was good to release these fish (as required) to the tannic water in the early morning fog or in the last light of day.

rivertoprambler in the fog, Glacier Nat’l Park

in Glacier, MT

Lake McDonald, near our campsite, GNP

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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23 Responses to Double Focus

  1. Brent says:

    Somehow I missed the footnote to your previous post where you mention the Adirondacks trip. Sounds nice, and thankfully I have some mental pictures to supplement, as we swung by Placid and Whiteface about 1.5 years ago.

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    White-knuckling it indeed! As for the stew, schizophrenic or otherwise, I’ll take what you’re serving up. I don’t know if I mentioned it previously, but I bought a small Tenkara rod this summer. Finally managed to catch some fish on it recently.

    • Living dangerously, Mr. Stanton. But I didn’t know that you took the Tenkara plunge and got a small caster. Although I’ve resolved not to go with one (yet), I’d like to know your experience with this simpler outfit, thoughts and all.

  3. plaidcamper says:

    Your recipe worked well, Walt! We all do it, finding ourselves in one place thinking about another. Being present and attentive isn’t as easy as it sounds, and it’s in our nature to compare and contrast, sift and sort. The Adirondacks region is on our wish list, and your serving has us hungry to visit a place that is forever wild.
    Enjoy your weekend!

    • You’ve got it, PC. Attentiveness on the here and now is difficult to achieve, and harder to hold, but it’s grand when it is achieved. Glad that you find the Adirondacks an interesting possibility. I know you’d enjoy the region. Thanks, and have a good one, too!

  4. Jet Eliot says:

    Wonderful to see the beauty of Glacier NP and the amazing Lake McDonald, Walt. And I especially liked learning about the Adirondacks because I have only visited there once (about a million years ago) and was completely unfamiliar with the immensity of the park. Six million acres!! Lovely photos and descriptions too, thank you.

    • Thank you, Jet. Yeah the Adirondacks never fail to amaze me, though, admittedly, I tend to take the region a bit for granted, since I live relatively close to the preserve. I shouldn’t do that. Life is too short!

  5. Ross says:

    Loved the post on our “home” Adirondacks, they are a special place. More great pictures of your trip out west, i’ve really enjoyed them.

  6. Mark Wittman says:

    Thanks Walt! That is a favorite wilderness and good to know things are just fine there

  7. I have to say that I enjoyed your stew Walt! Although I enjoy reading your blog to check out other waters, there’s something familiar and comforting in seeing things out west as well.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Grew up in the Albany suburb of Colonie, fished every chance I got in either the Catskills or Adirondacks – but the Adirondacks will always be my favorite. Summers on Lake George, wilderness trips to Pharaoh Lake, and many, many trips to visit Fran, fish the west branch and camp along Black Brook. Heck, I even got to go to the Oylimpics at Lake Placid! And no, I didn’t see the “Miracle on Ice”. Never could figure out why all those folks wanted to be “46ers” – spent my time at lower elevations seeking brookies…

    • Thank you, A.! There’s some similarity in our background. I know Colonie but grew up near Chatham/Kinderhook, have fished all over the state and elsewhere and still find that the Adirondacks are special, especially those remote places with brook trout that you mention. Peak bagging is not my thing, either, although I’ve enjoyed a few big climbs up there.

  9. Bob Matuzak says:

    Hi Walt! Didn’t mean to send my comment as “anonymous” Must have messed up. I’m constantly amazed at how much and how many places we have in common. My son is in the D.C. area, fished the same Shenandoah streams just before your last visit, and not to mention all the PA & NY waters you’ve spoken about and I’ve fished. And now you tell me you lived in Columbia county??? When I got married we moved to Kinderhook and I lived there for several years. We absolutely loved it and have fond memories and good friends still there. Fished the Kinderhook from the headwaters (East creek) in Mass for trout to its confluence with the Hudson river at Stockport for smallmouths. Small world, eh? Always enjoy your posts and now that we’re retired I’m trying to talk my wife into talking a western trip like you guys did. She’s seriously considering it!
    Take care.

  10. Hey Bob, I thought that might be you but I couldn’t be sure. Thanks for clarifying! It does seem as though parts of our life-script come off the same book. And I do hope that you and yours can make a western trip that sort of resembles my latest.
    I knew that you had experience with fishing the upper Kinderhook (I need to get more acquainted with that and should let you know when I can make a pilgrimage) but I didn’t know you lived a few years in Kinderhook itself. I grew up near Valatie/Niverville and knew Kinderhook pretty well. Went to school at Ichabod till the tenth grade when I moved out to Wisconsin. Anyway I loved the outdoors in that area when I was a kid. Even wrote a chapter of my River’s Edge book called “Kinderhook Kid.”
    Yup, small world sometimes. Like now. Thanks Bob!

  11. Pingback: Green, gold and red – OldPlaidCamper

  12. JZ says:

    A wonderful write-up Walt and also a place I need to fish someday. New York is vast and certainly has a treasure trove of places for any angler to seek. I’ve fished the Neversink and the known rivers/creeks near Roscoe. They were wonderful to fish and often felt that I was somehow walking on the banks of history. It’s funny how the history of a place can somehow connect you in the endeavor of the sport. Whether its the renowned names, the legendary fly’s or stories that have graced its waters. Who knows, but it holds a flamed mystique that time has yet to extinguish. I find that to be quite wonderful in todays age, or ages. I gladly walk with those ghosts any day. Much as you have done on your many adventures. Thanks Walt for giving my planning mind a nudge today, it needed it…

    • Thanks JZ! New York has a lot of storied rivers, for certain. The history, the legends, of a place allure the likes of us who feel the relevance of time. The history of the Catskill rivers, for example, drew me more than anything else to fish the waters such as Beaverkill and Willowemoc for the first time. And then the beauty of such places ensured that I would return again and again. I still need to see the famous Neversink, however. When you’re coming in from the west, it’s hard to get past the Delaware, Beaverkill and others and keep on traveling, but someday I hope to do it!

  13. JZ says:

    I got a feeling your fly rod likes you Walt..Lol

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