My job puts me in touch with a lot of hunters and anglers and has me traveling around the state. What's more, when I do have some free time I don't waste it: I go hunting or fishing. That generates more encounters with sportsmen and women from not only New York, but across the country.
Over the years I've kind of become desensitized with anglers' knowledge of the West Branch of the Ausable River. All I have to do is tell them we live about 25 miles east of Lake Placid, and they perk up and respond, "Oh, you're up near the Ausable," or "Do you fish the Ausable?"
The answer, obviously, is an emphatic "yes," and I usually top it off proudly with something like, "Yeah, it's my home water," saying it casually and sounding like it's no big deal, but knowing full well that it is.
I never take the Ausable's West Branch for granted. I know the quality of the fishery, have caught scores of trout while fishing much of its length, from the Ausable Forks pocketwater upstream to the shadow of the famed ski jumps outside the Olympic village of Lake Placid. If I don't know it intimately – and some stretches I do – I have a pretty darn good handle on it.
I'm always amazed at the number of anglers – usually fly-fishers – who have made the trek up here to fish the famed West Branch, who speak glowingly of the river, the scenery, the fishery, and the slices of history surrounding it, whether it be the 1980 Olympics or legendary fly tier Fran Betters, who passed away a few years ago.
They speak of the Ausable with reverence, often making an annual pilgrimage (or two or three) to fish the river at various times of the year when insect activity is high and the trout are, as they say, "looking up." If they don't get up here every year, they vow to do so next year.
I got another reminder of that last month when we visited the huge Somerset, N.J., fly-fishing show, where the Hungry Trout Fly Shop and Resort had a booth and chatted up anglers who were planning their 2013 excursions to the West Branch. Jerry and Evan Bottcher can talk the talk; both are skilled fly-fishers and know the river like their backyard – which, in fact, it is. Anglers gathered around the booth while they held court, and to be honest, if you've fished the Ausable before it's a pretty easy sell to get you to return.
When I checked in with the Hungry Trout folks, it didn't take long before show attendees picked up on the fact that I was an Ausable regular and a friend of Jerry and Evan. The fellow fly-fishers eyed me with envy, and knowing what I know about the West Branch of the Ausable River, I couldn't blame them.