Despite an unusually warm, spring season that was more characteristic of a typical Adirondack summer, the usual spring rains were negligible, the black flies bearable and there proved to be a pleasantly charming absence of both frost heaves and muddy roads. There is no doubt the season was accelerated, however I've heard very few complaints.
While the arrival of summer is still looming on the near horizon, the Tri-Lakes region has already been locked in the throes of hosting a full schedule of outdoor events and activities that have included canoe and kayak races, mountain bike races, road races, marathons and trail runs. There has also been a host of fishing derbies, including at least one fly fishing tournament, a steady stream of Ironmen and women in training and the trailheads have been filled with hikers, birders, climbers and backpackers.
In recent weeks, I cannot recall passing through any of the local communities without encountering someone biking, hiking, boating, paddling, fishing, rollerblading or otherwise active in the outdoors. The local attitude seems to be, "If it can't be done outdoors, it's not worth doing."
Photo by Joe Hackett
While trout populations may have been diminished in the lower reaches of local rivers as a result of last year’s floods, there are still healthy populations of wild brook trout to be found in their headwaters.
Last week, I spent a major portion of my time surveying the headwaters of many local rivers and streams. Survey equipment included a small flyrod, a box of flies and an eagerness to discover the aftereffects of Tropical Storm Irene on the local trout population.
While most of the local rivers were swept clean of debris, it appears that most local fisheries survived the big storms quite well. Reports from the Saranac, the AuSable, the Chateaugay, the Salmon and the St. Regis indicate that the fisheries remain pretty well the same as they have been.
The Boquet, however, appears not to have weathered the weather too well, especially in its lower reaches. I paddled the Boquet last week from the dam in Willsboro, its mouth on Lake Champlain. The river channel is very shallow and covered with sand. With a depth of less than 2 feet, the lower river provides very little safe cover for fish, and none were taken.
However, while fishing the opposite end of the stream, which begins high in the Dix Range, I discovered a very healthly population of wild brook trout. Similar results were uncovered while fishing the headwaters of Ray Brook, the Chubb River, Barton's Brook and The Branch. It appears last summer's storms had a greater impact on fisheries along the lower reaches of the rivers than upon the headwater sections.
While probing the pools with both dry flies and nymphs, I was thrilled to find spunky little brook trout, often taking one right after another. And, even though the fingerlings barely bent the rod, the primitive beauty of the surroundings and the desolate nature of the journey compounded their value.
On Saturday, June 23, Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters will be hosting the first Adirondack SUP Festival at Lake Colby Beach in the village of Saranac Lake.
SUP (stand-up paddleboard) is the moniker for the newest contender for popularity in the paddle sports industry. The popularity of SUPs has soared in recent years, as their utilitarian range has expanded from flatwater use to whitewater paddling and even to fishing.
Paddleboards, which resemble surfboards or windsurfers, are one of the fastest growing segments of the paddle sports industry. Paddlers stand on the board and use an oversized, long shaft paddle to propel the craft. It appears the big boards would provide a great platform for fly fishing bass on the lakes.
The Adirondack SUP Festival will be a full-day event with food, music and fun in the sun. It will include stand-up paddleboard-inspired activities for the whole family, as well as three races: sprint, short course and a long course.
There will also be clinics, group tours, demos of boards and equipment, as well as dealer reps on hand to talk about SUPs and SUP equipment.
'Leave all the frills behind'
Throughout the late 1800s and well into the early 1900s, there was a keen interest among outdoor travelers to "go light," since "the night air in the deep woods is the best air there is."
One of the leaders of this movement was George Washington Sears, aka Nessmuk, who has been credited with opening up the Adirondacks to small boat travel. He crisscrossed the Adirondacks in the Sairy Gamp, a custom-built solo canoe manufactured by J. Henry Ruston in Canton.
Sears, who wrote under the name of Nessmuk, was a man of slight build and weighed barely 100 pounds.
Ruston designed and built some of the lightest boats of the day. He was a self-taught boat builder and an extraordinary craftsman who reportedly was "a tiny man, not much more than a midget."
The travel light movement had many adherents in the Adirondacks, where the necessity of minimalist camping gear and lightweight portable boats was most pronounced.
Dr. Arpal Gerster, a Hungarian immigrant who owned a camp on Blue Mountain Lake, was certainly a believer. He carried all of his gear on his back and boasted of sleeping in a silk tent that weighed less than 3 1/2 pounds.
Nessmuk wrote: "The art of going light, but right I hard to learn. However, it is one of the blessings of wilderness life that shows us how few things we need in order to be perfectly happy. Let us live the simple life, and leave all the frills behind."
However, despite his minimalist tendencies, Sears also recognized the necessity of carrying a compass. "The first time a man loses his bearings in the wilderness, his wits often refuse to work," he explained.
Another contemporary of Sears was Horace Kephart, the Dean of American Campers and one of the principal founders of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of Kephart's greatest woodmanship legacies is the development of minimal impact camping and the Leave No Trace ethic.
Kephart was lecturing and writing about the necessity of going light on the land in early 1900s. He once claimed, "The shelter of a slant rock camp is sweeter than all the roofs in all the world."