Spring in the Whiteface Region means one big thing - fly fishing! This year, the season is getting a bit of a late start due to the snow cover and ice remaining in the area waterways, but trout season officially opened on April 1.
The premier event of the spring is Wilmington’s Ausable River Two-Fly competition. It’s a competition between anglers using just two flies. And it’s the quintessential showdown among those fly fishers who think they know the river and think they know what the fish will be striking on any given day.
The allure of Northern New York’s West Branch of the Ausable River is legendary. It's a diverse waterway with large amounts of pocket water, and as any local angler will tell you, this is where the best trout live. The West Branch is filled with large boulders and great changes in elevation, creating vast amounts tumbling waters, which in turn provide lots of hiding places and places to rest while the tumbling water creates oxygen, essential for trout to thrive. The tree canopy over much of the river’s length provides shade, which, along with the oxygen, contribute to high survival numbers during the hottest months of the year. Deep and slow-moving sections of the river also undercut the sandy river banks where the trout love to hide, but where you can drop a fly and usually snag a trophy.
Unique to the Eastern United States, the West Branch of the Ausable River is legendary for abundant hatches of Stoneflies, Caddis and Mayflies, a culinary delight to the trout who call this river home. A large portion of the West Branch is regulated to "catch and release" only. No fish may be taken from the river. It was a hard fought battle to create this regulation, but it is proving a very valuable victory.
In mid-May each year competitive anglers gather in Wilmington on that Friday to register for the tournament and pick up the SWAG, and participate in a half day of fishing, followed by a welcome party, complete with a casting competition. This year will mark the 15th annual edition, taking place on May 16 and 17. On Saturday, a full day of competitive fishing ensues. The catch (pardon the pun) - you can choose just two flies to use per day. Each angler must pick his or her flies prior to the beginning of the day and that’s all they’re allowed to use. If they lose them, they’re done. The choice is a tough one and once chosen, they’re stuck with those flies, even if they find the finicky fish are definitely not interested in a particular fly on that particular day. At the end of the day, each competitor tallies up the total inches of the fish hooked that day and turns in the card.
One of the best parts of the tournament is knowing 100% of the proceeds from the $75 entry fees go back to preserving the river. So, if you’re in the area, or want to witness this annual event, make plans to visit the Whiteface Region May 16 and 17.
Even if you’re not an angler, it’s fun to go out on the riverbanks early or late on the days of the tournament and watch the action unfolding. And if you are an angler and don't want to join the competition, you can still fish the river. See you there!