Over the years, I've utilized a wide variety of vessels to access waters where trout can be found. I've paddled all sorts of canoes and rowed a variety of guideboats, johnboats and skiffs. I've also utilized a wide assortment of trees, stumps and a few log rafts to get at the trout.
I've even strapped on snowshoes to access the edges of some large, floating bogs, and I've also scrambled over, under and around more log jams than I care to mention.
Among all of the various methods I've employed in my pursuit of trout, there is something unquestionably unique about using a raft, whether it's inflatable or natural.
The author shows off a brook trout caught in a backcountry pond.
Possibly it is because it stirs up a sense of the Huck Finn in our soul, which feeds an innate wanderlust to travel farther and wider and to risk more.
It may also be attributed to the ease and portability of the small, inflatable rafts I often use. Bundling the rafts inside of a pack permits anglers to access mountaintop ponds and travel through otherwise impossibly thick swamps and balsam thickets that would be inaccessible by any other means.
It is just this sense of adventure that we are often seeking to recapture as adults. After all, recreation means to re-create, and the older we get, the more we strive to recover our youth.
I recall meeting up with a pair of young boys on the Raquette River a few years ago. The pair had floated downriver on a small raft for over a mile below the Piercefield town beach before they encountered the first set of rapids.
Fortunately I had stopped to fish in the rapids that morning before traveling further downriver.
I used a large rowing canoe to access the river that day, and as the raft floated faster and closer to the first drop, I rowed out to save them.
The taller of the two, who appeared to be about 10 years of age, puffed up his chest and proudly proclaimed, "Mister, we've gone farther downstream than anybody's ever gone before!"
Pointing back upstream, he declared, "We came all the way from back there!"
I agreed with his assessment. "Yes! You sure have come a long way! But how did you plan to get back?"
The two of 'em looked at each other rather quizzically, mumbled a few words and then turned back to me.
"Umm, ahh, Mister," they stuttered, "Uhh, umm, we didn't really think about that part. Could you help us, maybe?"
"I thought so," I responded, "Hop in the canoe, I'll take you back upriver."
I loaded them and their adventuresome little raft aboard and pulled hard for the town beach. I arrived just in time to find their frantic parents and an embarrassed lifeguard in a state of despair.
Fortunately, considering the potential consequences of their actions, their wanderlust moment ended happily.
I wish I could say the same for myself. My sense of adventure hasn't always been an easy thing to deal with over the years. I've spent a bit of time in cold water, or stuck in deep mud or muck while wavering aimlessly on the edge of disaster along a variety creeks, rivers and ponds.
I'll be the first to admit I've been luckier than skilled, until I was thoroughly educated by the school of hard knocks. However, it really is amazing how fast one's learning curve accelerates in the face of real danger.
It is also interesting to note how quickly a person begins to recognize the gravity of dangerous situations after having been lucky enough to live through a few.
There is a lot more knowledge to be discovered in just a single "near miss" opportunity than there is in a year's worth of lesser lessons. Most of all, I've learned to assess the risks and to weigh the odds in my favor.
The process hasn't stunted my desire to travel far and wide in pursuit of trout, nor has it limited my taste for discovery. I still can't overcome the urge to travel up any little stream that shows sign of beaver activity.
In recent years, the Adirondack beaver population has literally exploded, as evidenced by the numerous ponds and bogs that have been springing up along the local roads. Highway crews have been very busy unclogging culverts all across the region.
Often, the only hint of beaver to be found is a few small sprigs of chewed wood floating around in the inlet of a steam, as it enters a lake or pond. I like to get back to where the wild trout are and where the people aren't! This is the most important factor I've found in catching decent fish.
A telltale signature that a backwoods pond holds fish is the evidence of an osprey nest along its shores, or the presence of loons and mergansers on the water. The discovery of an old boat or a raft hidden in the nearby woods usually clinches the deal.
Best of all are obvious rings of rising trout sipping insects off the surface. When I see such a thing, I simply can't pump up the raft fast enough.
I'll also search for evidence of small trout fingerlings below a dam's outlet, or in the inlet streams that feed a pond. If there are fish in the pond, they're usually a few to be found in the pools at the base of the dam, or in the inlet streams.
I also like taking time to explore upstream on the inlet streams, especially those feeding into larger ponds. Beaver do not tolerate a lot of company, and they'll often chase their own offspring away from the "home waters."
Typically, young travel upstream to create new dams and ponds of their own. Often each consecutive pond will usually host trout if the initial ponds do.