For me , there are few places in the world where the worries and concerns of life are unable to press their hot pursuit. Places where time seems not to matter so much, and the constant din of ought and obligation are swallowed up by the awesome simplicity of raw, elemental beauty. The Adirondack Mountains of New York State is one such place. Whether I am laboring up the side of one of its' many high peaks , slipping silently by canoe through a lost pond at sunset , or just listening to the whisper of the woods, the wonder of these mountains envelopes and re-creates.
Did I forget the fishing? Certainly not!For the vast majority of those that seek the waters of the northland, the West Branch of the Ausable is synonymous with fly fishing. The reputation of this gorgeous mountain stream is certainly justified, as the thousands who flock here each year to stand in its' fabled waters and chase its' beautiful fish will tell you. So large is its legend in fact , that it overwhelms the truth that there are other fabulous rivers wending their way through this region holding numerous and large trout that eagerly await the drift of a fly.
For the angler willing to leave the crowds behind , and who is not opposed at times to crossing the boundary line of the park (affectionately known as the "blue line"), the rewards can be mighty. The Salmon , the Chateaugay , the and the St. Regis are among the largely unsung heroes of the northland and while many of their serpentine miles are outside park boundaries, they are nonetheless each beautiful gems in their own right.
On a crystalline morning in July , just before sunrise, I head north out of the park tracking the flow of my personal favorite , the Salmon River. The morning is surprisingly cool and with the heat in my car set on low , I have the windows partly open. I can't resist the smell. The fresh and pungent aroma of coniferous forest is too much for me to pass by. The mist is rising steadily off the ponds and lakes , and the loons still are calling to each other across the open expanse.
I am exhilarated by my surroundings , and by the knowledge that shortly I may have a belligerent rainbow , or stubborn brown on the other end of my line. The Salmon flows north out of the mountainous park, winding first through foothills , then rolling farm and pasture land , long reclaimed from northern forest. Eventually it will bubble over the border into Canada and join the St. Lawrence River continuing inexorably on to the sea.
As I arrive at my spot for the morning, I unfold my gear and ready my fly choice in total solitude. It is almost a shame to be the only one here as it is so lovely that I feel the desire to share it. But then I come to my senses , there are some fish to catch!On the Salmon I like my nymphing , and that is usually my first choice unless it is clear that the topwater feeding is in full swing. The color of the water is a beautiful tannic- but- clear, brown, and just about every darker , deeper spot whether slow or fast , will hold fish. I begin in a favorite bend where a shallow , wide and fast riffle dumps into an even faster deep run, then tailing out into a slow pool.
Sound familiar? My first drift produces a stiff grab on a dropper rig consisting of my own "Peacock Creature" , ( a small wooly bugger with pearl-flash wing) and a size 16 or 18 Pheasant Tail with liberal hackle. After a surprising battle on my 4-weight and 6x, I catch the sight of a substantial brown trout. In the faster water he felt a bit bigger than he is , but he is as pretty as a jewel , and as I release him I know that there is one waiting in there that will test my skill today.
The Salmon holds many fish. Granted , the average size is not monstrous 12 - 15 inches, but the big ones are there, and each visit north to this river has yielded at least one , if not more, of those for me. The challenge of tempting them out of hiding is addictive , while the action on even a slow day can be fast and usually enough to keep you occupied with the catch and release process. As the morning wears on, the list of takers grows, and this day it is heavy on browns , though an occasional and unusually larger rainbow makes an appearance.
Later in the morning as I drift a seam at the head of pool in the faster moving water the big pull comes and I go into my large-fish fighting mode. I am forced to let this one run hard against my drag and as I fight him as though he were a steelhead. As I gain the edge, I am gratified with a fat 18 inch brown that did not succeed in throwing my hook. My day is made! Though in truth, it was right from the start.Fifteen or so miles east of the Salmon River and running roughly parallel to it from south to north is the Chatueagay.
Although it is close in proximity , it is a very different river. Deep ravines, waterfalls and chasms as well as thick forest surround this jewel . As I and my friend hike down from the road above , we very quickly forget that there are towns or people nearby. Indeed the sense within this setting is of even greater remoteness than in actuality there is. With a healthy population of browns , rainbows and brookies the Chateaugay offers great opportunities to fish most anyway you like.
On a day in July I enjoyed success drifting nymphs , stripping and swinging streamers , and swinging large nymphs through fast runs and pools with a twitching retrieve. One nice brown smashed the size 8 nymph as it swung wide and paused in the current rising as it hung there. The brookies liked the streamers and large nymphs as well , cast into deeper pools and retrieved in short strips.
Pretty rainbows were taking nymphs bottom bounced through fast runs. There was really something for everyone on this wonderful stream , yet ironically there was no one else.As we slip from spot to spot along this expanse of river the evidence of the dance of nature is in full force ... a wilderness party. Hawks circle and call overhead , a fox flits into the underbrush , deer tracks are everywhere and the industry of beavers is readily evident. I am overwhelmed by its' loveliness and a eager participant in its' embarrassment of riches. At one point I glance at my watch ... what time is it? and then... What day? ... I guess it doesn't really matter.
Have a Great summer!
SAO Fly fishing Guide