As my brother Josh and I drove through the Adirondack Mountains down winding Route 86, the most magnificent and beautiful river came into focus. I could feel its overall shape, its wandering path through the landscape, the depths of its center into the earth’s skin, its harsh and gently inviting force. I became aware of the sun traversing the sky, the contrasting light and colors glittering, changing with time, dancing with life on top of the river’s surface. And even though I live here, I was once again in awe of the beauty of this area.
As summer slowly tiptoes its way into the Adirondacks, I decided to try something new this year—fly fishing.
Josh spends his days from early spring into late fall fishing all over the Adirondacks. Trying to fly fish is something that I knew was going to be very different for me, as I spend my days from early spring to late fall swimming, biking, and running.
The Adirondacks is home to many amazing adventures, and it is also the perfect place to learn to fly fish. Being a fly fisher’s paradise, you will be sure not to leave without eventually catching something big.
Before we went to the river, Josh first took me to the docks on Lake Placid lake, a true beginner spot to learn the techniques of fishing with a fly rod. This was a great learning opportunity because the lake water is calm and clear, so you can see the fish and how they react. The first thing I learned was to not move the fly in the water too fast. The fish are used to the way natural bugs move in the water and if you don’t mimic that, it registers something foreign to them and they turn away. I also learned that when the fish bite the fly, don’t pull the line fast with an attempt to set the hook in the fish’s mouth. This doesn’t work, and it will pull the hook right out of their mouth. Instead, all you need to do is gently lift the rod straight up and the hook will set.
After pulling the hook out of the fish’s mouth several times, I finally caught on and then I even caught one! It really was an awesome feeling, to feel the weight of the fish fight against the line. Unlike a rod and reel pole where you reel the line in, all you do is guide the fish back toward you by lifting the rod and moving it back. The fish will slowly come closer to you, and as it tires and gets close enough you can scoop it up with the fishing net.
My brother took me to the Ausable River on my second day of fishing. As we drove along the river there were thousands of spots to fly fish, and each spot we came to was already being fished. We eventually found a little spot just before Whiteface Mountain. It was a short walk through the woods to get down along the riverbank where we stood and fished.
Standing there along the flowing river, moment-to-moment I was brought to total awareness. My focus was on the bite, the ever-changing dynamics of the fly and the river. You get into this space between you, the water, and your rod, and there is where you stay. Fly fishing has this amazing capacity to force you to slow down. I found myself tangled in the line, getting the fly stuck on the rocks in the water, then whipping the line out of the water as if I was angry at it. Then, suddenly, I was standing still. I was calm. Lost in the moment, lost in the depths of the river with a sense of resolve, slowly lifting the line up out of the water, gently casting it forward and guiding the fly down the river as it flowed beneath me in a mesmerizing pattern.
As I stood there by the river, I felt connected to nature in a way I hadn’t felt in some time. I could smell the earth, the fresh air around me. It was cleansing; it was rejuvenating. It reminded me of how the Adirondacks are such a special place, a place where you can smell and feel the fresh air.
I didn’t end up catching anything when we went fishing that day. The river was a completely different experience than the lake — the water was moving fast and I couldn’t see the fish. The fish don’t make themselves known, they don’t tell you what to do, or where they will be. You wait, you cast, you try to learn the river and where the fish might be, while taking your best educated guess on what type of fly to use. The answers aren’t right there in front of you. And just like the answers to life's questions aren’t either, we are left to trusting that we are doing the right thing.
My brother is very knowledgeable in what flies to use. He put one fly on my line that he said is foolproof for catching a fish, if they are there. This fly is called the dirty mop fly. I fished with the dirty mop for a while, and still no fish. I guess they weren’t where we were that day. The river was also moving very fast and Josh said when the river is moving too fast it is difficult to catch anything. That’s what happens with fly fishing; some days you go out and you catch fish, other days you go out and you simply enjoy the river and the views while never catching a fish. Either way, it is an enjoyable experience.
The going and the stimulus from my environment, no matter what I am doing, is how I get lost in it. I get lost in the doing, and I realize that it is what I have always been drawn to here in the Adirondacks — the going and the doing. To be out in the wilderness, in the area that I love, in some sort of capacity, whether by pushing my physical strength as an endurance athlete up the slopes of a mountain, or to completely slowing down and challenging my patience along the river’s edge while learning to fly fish.
Learning to fly fish in the Adirondacks with my brother is just one more way for me to enjoy this unique area of the world, an area that I am so lucky to live in.
Experience the Adirondacks by trying something new. Take a chance. Go fish.