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Fish tales recalled through the snowy, white haze

February 2, 2011
By Joe Hackett, News Outdoors Columnist
After another snowstorm ravaged the region, anglers who are dreaming of an early ice-out have sunk deeper into the dreary depths of an interminable winter.

I know their kind.

They peer listlessly at the flyrods stacked neatly on a rack, and fumble through the flyboxes tucked safely in the back.

Thoroughly thumbed issues of Flyfisherman and Trout are piled high, and a tying vise still grips a half-finished streamer fly nearby.

Dusty and musty waders still hang on the wall, where they were left to dry only last fall.

A canoe sits in the side yard, buried in snow, an indiscrete hump just outside the window.

Their visions of small streams and a big trout sipping a small fly will have to wait until May, or possibly even July.

Such horrible thoughts have provoked remembrances of far better days, and I’ve struggled to recall them through the snowy, white haze.

I hope a few fish tales from days long since passed will help fellow anglers to survive until the new spring’s first cast.

Bounty on the Boquet

In no particular order, I have recollected memories of some of the most memorable angling adventures of my career. Most of the occasions were shared with others, and a few names have been changed to protect the innocent. 

It was difficult to decide on the most amazing day I’ve had with a rod in hand; however, quite possibly it occurred on the Boquet River, near Elizabethtown, on a rather small stream that ambles through the Pleasant Valley to reach Lake Champlain in Willsboro.

On a sunny summer’s day, we set off on a 6-mile canoe float down a rather remote and inaccessible stretch of river. My friend Don was slinging a flyrod as usual, and I was casting a small ultralight spinning rod.

We cast and tossed in every direction for miles without a take. In fact, we never spooked a fish. Finally, after rounding a big bend, we drifted the canoe into a huge logjam that had clogged the river from bank to bank, creating a deep pool in the clear water.

Struggling to pull the canoe over the logs, I cautioned Don that the bottom was black with mud. With a long sapling, he checked it with a poke and the mud parted. The bottom was black, but not with mud, with trout.

They were stacked up on both sides of the jam and we worked the hole for hours, catching and releasing more trout than we could count. We finally departed as daylight faded, happily content with our discovery of a secret hole.

I returned to the same hole later that season with a father and his two teenage boys. The kids wanted to wade downstream and cast spinners, so I took their Dad to the logs and warned him of what to expect. He took 28 brown trout on consecutive casts, the largest pushing 18 inches. 

I asked if I should chase up the boys to enjoy the action and he asked, “Why? This isn’t something they should know about, it would ruin ‘em for life.”

By the time the boys finally returned, their father was bushed. They looked satisfied, bragging, “We caught almost a dozen.” 

I didn’t have the heart to tell them about their Dad’s day.

Brookies in our laps

For years, I heard rumors of a secret trout pond, hidden high on a nearby mountain. It was “so full of brook trout that kids from a nearby camp could catch them with just a safety pin and a string on a stick.” 

I had dismissed the story as a typical fish tale, until a former camper verified the story. I thought, “I’ll get back there one day,” and stored the story in the back of my head.

A few years later, I had an opportunity to enjoy a helicopter ride over the region. When the pilot asked if there was any place I’d like to see, the secret pond came to mind.

We came in over a ridge flying low and the pond appeared. From the air, I saw dimples. In closer, the pond was alive with rising trout, some actually coming clear out of the water.

The following morning, I bushwacked into the pond with a fellow guide. We carried packrafts on our backs. It was a steep climb, but adrenaline flowed with our anticipation.

Following a small outlet stream, we arrived at a massive beaver dam. It was easily 10 feet tall and impounded a pond that was about four acres in size.

With our rafts quickly inflated, we took to the water. I rowed out to the middle of the pond and began laying out long casts. I caught beautiful native brookies with each retrieve. 

Over my shoulder, I heard Wayne exclaiming, “I got one … got another … Oh, now this is a good one ... Wow, another one.”

His cadence was so frequent that I pulled an oar and spun around to see what he was doing. He was anchored less than 10 feet away from the dam, over the deepest water in the pond, and he wasn’t even casting.

With only four feet of line out, he was jigging directly under his raft. As he raised fish out of the water, they dropped into his lap and he tossed them back.  We fished for hours, and released too many fish to count before departing.

Later that summer, I took a guest from Scotland to the pond. He introduced me to a “Loch Rig,” which consists of three flies attached to one leader, a streamer, a wet and a dry fly as a dropper. He was hauling in three fish at a time, all of them swimming in different directions.

Although I lacked his casting proficiency, I managed numerous three-bangers as well. Eventually, the dam breached with old age and the pond is a mudflat with a small stream running through it.

Flurry of activity

In the early 1980s, I often biked deep into the St. Regis Canoe Area, with a pack raft to fish and pond hop. It was early spring, the bugs were wicked and the fishing had been slow. I was in camp, along the edge of a small pond when the flurry began. 

It started with a loud crack. My back was to the water, but I could see the rings. I dismissed the clap as a beaver sounding a warning. But, in an instant, the pond lit up with slashing surface rises. I launched myself into the raft and rowed as fast as possible.

The action continued and I could see the sides of long, fat brook trout flashing just below the surface. Along the shore, fish were actually causing pods of pitcher plants and leatherleaf bushes to shake as they chased after emerging dragonflies.

The dragonfly nymphs were crawling out of the water onto the vegetation, and the trout were hunting them down. For almost 20 minutes, which seemed like an eternity, I took large handsome brook trout on nearly every cast. Then it was over, as if someone had flicked a switch, and the waters were still.

I released all that I could. However some took the hook deep and I ended up with eight fish (back then the limit was 10).

I cleaned the fish, packed my gear and made a quick trip of the ride home. The combined weight of the eight fish was 13 and three-quarter pounds.

Game of ‘decoy fish’

A similar experience occurred in the fall of that year, while fishing brook with two friends in a guideboat. In the clear water of the pond, we could actually see the fish following our lures under the boat.

It was interesting to note that when one of us would hook a fish, an entire school would follow it almost to the boat. I have since learned that a fish in distress will attract others.

We ended up playing a game we called “decoy fish,” which required the first person with a fish on his line to leave it in the water until one of the other anglers hooked one.

In this manner, we caught and released over a dozen brookies in a row. 

Similarly, one fall I fished with an old friend on a remote pond near Cranberry Lake. As we paddled up the outlet toward the main body of the pond, there was a loud splash ahead. I cast a streamer fly to the exact spot and instantly a fish was on. 

My friend followed with a cast and got the same results. We continued the process, joking about who could catch the greatest number of fish on consecutive casts.

I’ve forgotten who won, although if it was him, I’ll soon be reminded. However, I do recall the record for the day stood at 14 brook trout taken in succession.

I’ve since adopted the same approach on numerous small streams, where I’ve actually taken over two dozen brook trout on consecutive casts. While it is still quite enjoyable, it is difficult to top the excitement of having a similar string of two- and three-pound brookies on the line in succession.

In the dark of night

I’ve fished blind on several occasions, casting in the dark well into the night along a local river. It can be a difficult proposition, but productive. In the pitch-black darkness, it is hard to maintain balance, especially with the flow of the river and the pull of a large brown trout.

On one particular evening, I fished alongside a local restaurant in Lake Placid, where big browns would move upstream in the rapid during the night. I had taken several nice fish, when I had a take on the back cast, which was odd.

As I stripped in flyline, I felt only a slight tug, and discovered a bat at the end of my line. Needless to say, it was released and I no longer fish anywhere near streetlights, in the night.


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