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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fly Fishing The Adirondacks part 1 - The West Branch of the Ausable

Few sights are as inspiring to the devoted trout fisherman as the glint of a free-stone mountain stream flashing through a pine forest , its fast runs and pockets gurgling and lapping as it feeds into deep, moving pools that you think ,.. are sure ,.. are absolutely positive, hold the monsters you seek. You know these monsters ... they're the ones that pepper your dreams and invade your waking moments, challenging your skills and calling for your communion. It is nature in all its extravagant beauty summed up in the pursuit of a beautiful animal in a beautiful place. And there you are in the middle of it , smelling it , hearing it , feeling it and... touching it.

This is what drives many a person into the middle of a river loaded with huge slippery rocks and boulders to balance precariously against the force of rushing water. This is what , we who do this , share in common. It is the anticipation of this that I carry with me as I head off the ridge and down through the forest , following the sound of the rushing Adirondack river. The Ausable , The Salmon , The Chateaugay, ... in this northern region of the Adirondack Mountains , these are the rivers that keep me coming back each year and compel me to seek their affirmation and hold their beautiful fish in my hand.

This month I had the chance to unfold in the arms of these great trout streams for some weeks and enjoy days without obligation or guilt as I sought the browns , rainbows , and brookies of the north country. Though geographically close to each other these three streams are considerably different. The topography changes quickly and dramatically between Wilmington New York in the heart of the high peaks region heading north into the St. Lawrence Valley.

The rivers change too.In the heart of it all, The West Branch of the Ausable is the central draw of the region. This fabled trout stream has been the stage for many of fly fishings' greatest stars ,and a host of the legends of the sport have fished it and known it. Lee Wulff and Fran Betters are two among scores that have sung its praises and written of its perfection, and Fran still maintains his home and his fly shop a stones throw away from the water in the town of Wilmington.

These days a steady flow of seasoned veterans as well as fledgling aspirants descend its banks and take their positions in the shadow of those who have gone before, seeking to share in the experience.Despite its alpine, freestone nature , during the high summer months the Ausable can get tough, as the water will inevitably warm somewhat , making conditions more challenging for feeding fish than in the peak time of June to early July. Still, with the right approach, it can be a wonderful thrill to take browns and rainbows from the pocket water, and fighting these particularly vigorous fish in the faster current is a real challenge.

Traditionally a dry fly bastion, the West Branch is very productive with nymphs as well. Later in the summer , Trico's and terrestrials will come into play. The diversity of food in this river is tremendous, and certainly an important part of what makes it so good. Mayflies ,Caddis and Stoneflies are all in abundance as well as a plethora of forest terrestrials. "Matching the hatch" , while still great , is not essential, as these fish will respond to a wide variety of offerings. More importantly than exactly what you use , is size and color.

Matching these factors to the fish will produce results all season. Unlike other fabled trout streams such as the West Branch of the Delaware, if you are fishing dries, it is not productive to wait for fish to rise as you may spend all day looking for a nose... best to fish your dries "blind". Fish holding deep will streak to the surface and crush flies and head back down all in one lightning quick motion.

In the middle of a very hot July I had good success with dry-droppers, drifting a very small size 20 beadhead Baetis nymph below Fran Betters' famous Ausable Wulff or Usual pattern , and most often the fish I took had the nymph firmly in mouth. Many fish rose to the dry but few committed to the take, though terrestrials such as a Chernobyl Ant or Hopper drew some savage strikes from bigger Browns.

The fish on the Ausable are in the 10 to 15 inch range for rainbows , and anywhere from 10 to 20+ for the browns. Every year some true slobs over 5 lbs. are taken, though they best not be expected. These browns are extremely beautiful and their coloration is more vivid than those taken from other surrounding streams.

On a cool rainy day in July as I release a rainbow back into the churning pocket water , knowing it would be my last of this visit, I pause to take in the sight. This gorgeous river and this timeless setting , is certainly one kind of trout fishing in its perfection!In Adirondacks part 2 I will share my pics of two other great rivers of the northland.

Tight Lines!
John Clouser - SAO Steelhead Guide

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