A day on the West Branch
Trout Fishing on the AuSable River
My canoe was finally finished, the weather forecast was for an Adirondack “bluebird day,” and my buddy Doug was itching to wet a line. Since part of the objective for this outing was to see how my canoe performed, we decided to drop-in at Lake Everest and paddle up the West Branch of the AuSable as far as we could, and fish-float back down.
Lake Everest is the beach in Wilmington, NY formed when a dam was built downstream in the Town of Wilmington. While this dam dates back to 1938, there have been dams at this location since the early 1800’s, restraining the waters of the West Branch, which created a large swimming area with a wonderful sandy beach.
We loaded the canoe, an old 16’ Mad River Explorer, and proceeded to paddle upstream. After only 200 yards, we lost sight of the town, and lost most of the assorted noises of civilization. The river is fairly wide at this point, and Doug and I were looking for trout and scouting for places we would concentrate on during the return float. To me, a major part of the fishing experience is the environment—the beauty that nature has bestowed upon us. Paddling upstream, we saw an osprey in its nest, many ducks, geese, and other birds. Doug even saw a large otter, which likely was there for the same reason we were.
After paddling around several bends and passing some very nice “camps” set safely away from the river, we entered a marshy stretch where the banks were comprised of dense alder thickets. In this area, are several active and inactive beaver dams and a couple of nice tributaries, all of which I noted for a future adventure. Finally, we reached as far as we could paddle, and beached the canoe, took-off our sweatshirts, and admired the beauty. It was a beautiful day, around 70 degrees, not a cloud in the sky. There was a steady breeze out of the North that conveniently blew the black flies away from us. There, we met two fishermen from northern New Jersey who had used trolling motors to reach this point, and were amazed at our ability to paddle upstream that far.
These guys were diehard fly fisherman, who have been fishing the West Branch for 15-20 years, and who were renting a camp for the week. They had some luck, but seemed happy just to be away from the Garden State Parkway. We shared some good fishing stories, and Doug and I decided to start fishing.
Doug opted for a Mepps spinner, and I decided to try a brown stonefly nymph in a size 12. We started working the banks and the overhangs with no joy, but couldn’t help noticing a family of geese who were out for their midday stroll. While we tried to be unobtrusive, both parents made it clear we were to keep our distance.
We decided to drift further downstream, and picked a spot at a big bend in the river. There was a nice hole with plenty of protection from winged predators, and we started casting through it.
Within a few minutes, Doug landed a nice 9 inch brown trout. Yes, the surroundings are stunning, but it is always nice to catch something!
Feeling outdone, I desperately switched to an old stand-by, an AuSable Wulff. The AuSable Wulff was designed by a West Branch fly fishing pioneer and Wilmington resident, Fran Betters, and is a go-to fly. Feeling challenged, but yet confident, I made several casts drifting my fly past the overhangs and under the tree branches. Nothing!!! Obviously, there were no feeding trout in that hole!
We floated further down the river to another bend, and started casting again. Wouldn’t you know it? Doug hooked another brown trout, the same size as the first. These were fat, healthy trout.
Finally, we looked at our watches and said, “Wow, where did the day go?” It was already 3:00 PM, and Doug had some family commitments to attend. We paddled back to the boat ramp, unloaded the canoe, and I decided to open the windows of my SUV to let some air circulate. I turned the key—nothing!! I had left the key in the ignition and totally drained the battery.
A local teenage boy must have overheard my plaintive lament, because minutes later his Dad arrived with jumper cables in hand. It took a good 20 minutes to resuscitate the dead battery, and not once did the man look at his watch or complain. Meanwhile, I am thinking “On a day like this, there have to be a million other things this family wanted to be doing.”
When we finally got my car started, I thanked him profusely, and he looked at me and said, “What are neighbors for?” Aside from the beauty and the profound ruggedness of the Adirondacks, it is people like that who make us all feel at home.