Four Days in the Adirondack Park

It was over 30 years ago when I went on my first camping trip to this remote lake deep in the Adirondack Park. I was far too young to remember that exact trip, or even the subsequent few trips we made. The first time I really remember, I must have been maybe 7 or 8 years old. I remember playing on the beach at the launch while my mom and dad carried the canoe and gear down to the lake. I remember paddling out around the point to the campsite with the big round boulder at the beach. Sitting and waiting with the gear while my dad paddled back and got my mom, brother, and the rest of the gear. I remember swimming, playing cards, playing in the sand, collecting freshwater clams, and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes.

I remember bits and pieces of the next few years including when I was 10 right after the 1995 microburst that took down a massive number of trees and did a lot of damage to the campsites. But what I remember best was always the fishing. We would pack in containers of nightcrawlers that my brother and I would drown under bobbers. The fishing was tough during those early years, and I even remember writing “WORMS” in the sand with an arrow pointing to under the boulder where we would leave what remained of our bait for anyone else that wanted it. We could see smallmouth swimming in the reeds but could never get them to bite. Early in the morning you could see the salmon they used to stock rising on the surface of the smooth calm water but they were always a dream to catch.

The first good fish I remember catching (and by good I’m sure it was only 14-inches at most) was down the river that flowed out of the lake. We would often head into the river if the lake got too choppy. Not far down the river, around a bend, there was a large boulder on the shoreline (I can still find it to this day). I remember casting my worm and bobber right in front of it. Probably my first good cast ever. After just a few seconds the bobber went down and I set the hook. I fought the fish, my dad netted it, and I was hooked. That fish started a love affair that hasn’t subsided.

My Father and Brother With Our Catch for Dinner (1999?).

After a few years, as my brother and I got older, (and after a miserable trip that rained and stormed the entire time), my mother stopped going and it was just the guys, but we made the trip every year without fail. The fishing also improved, as did our skill. By the time I was in my teens we had the lake pegged. We could regularly catch decent fish with the occasional 18-incher mixed in. It was good enough that we could actually plan on one night of the three to have fish for dinner. We also started exploring the lake’s lake trout population. We would drift and drag Cleos, Red-eyes, and dardevle spoons to catch them or the occasional salmon (they stopped stocked salmon years ago now).

Throughout my youth, I always looked forward to the annual camping trip and it got better and better as the years progressed. My grandfather came along for a few years. One year I found a nice hunting knife on the shore. We got better at the camping part, knowing just what to bring and how to set up camp. We always ate well too, and got good at cooking over a wood fire. The trip was exhausting, but even then it recharged my mental batteries.

When I went off to college the camping trips became more sporadic. Two years later my brother followed suit and they became even less frequent. We still got out, but it was no longer every year. Some years it was just my father and I, some years it was he and my brother, some years other family friends came along, and some years we just didn’t make it up at all. I’ve made the trip solo and I’ve gone with friends. One thing that hasn’t changed in 30+ years is my love for that lake.

The summer of 2018 I was booked with fishing tournaments and I couldn’t find time for a trip. This year I wasn’t going to let that happen. I blocked off fathers day weekend, which also happens to be the opening of bass season in NY, and told my dad we were going camping.

We left early Friday morning and drove up to the lake. We hauled our gear from the parking area and we carted my Hobie down the rough trail to the water. It was tough going, but we got it. I had fished this lake so many times, and I knew it so well, I wanted the chance to fish it with my full tournament rig. The weather forecast was not promising and the lake showed it. With 20 mph sustained winds and 2-foot rollers, it was a struggle to get anywhere. We took shelter in the lee side of the first island. With my pedal drive, it was easier for me so I went on to look ahead and see what campsites were open. There are two island sites we prefer, and there were only a few groups there so hopefully one would be open. But after I made it another quarter of a mile, seeing just how bad the lake was, and how much my father had struggled just getting his loaded Flint to the first island, I made the decision that we would just set up camp there. We had camped there once before in a similar situation and we figured we could make due.

Rough Waters

That first day was a simple one. Set up camp, collect firewood, get the gear organized, and prep some tackle. But most importantly it was time to relax, recover from the pack in, cook a big simple dinner, and just enjoy being out there.

Saturday was the big day. It was opening day of bass season, the weather had settled down (a little), and it was time to go fishing. We got up, got the water boiling for coffee, geared up, and headed out. I decided to spend my day tackling the southern shore and then hopefully the boulder fields at the southwest corner. I fished along and the fishing was good. My first fish was in the 14-inch range so I knew they were biting. As I moved around the point and fished many of the areas I always had, I was taken back to so many memories from years past. I don’t know why it hit me so hard this year, but each beach, each rock, each campsite elicited a memory from a different camping trip long ago.

I fished along catching a few small fish, but wasn’t finding the larger class I hoped for. I fished at the mouth of the stream that flows in on the east side, but it wasn’t as productive as it usually is. The grass hadn’t really come in yet and the pencil reed was just starting to grow. It was clear with the early trip this year, we were a little ahead of what I was used to. I moved around the stream mouth and continued southwest. Watching my electronics I found a dropoff I didn’t know existed. It was rather steep so I drifted out over the deeper area and began casting up onto the flat with my chatterbait to pull it over the dropoff. That’s where I got my first good fish. She didn’t hit it that hard, but it was a solid prespawn female, 17.75-inches. That made me feel good. I got something that would help both my monthlong and my Adirondack Open standings.

I continued along the area, breezing past the sandy shore since the weeds there were still dead and slimy. I made my way to the next rocky shoreline and began alternating between a wacky Biospawn Exostick and a RI Smallie Beaver. Both were effective, but I was mired in a slew of 12-inch fish. As I cruised along the bank, I saw on my side imaging there were a number of isolated boulders out on the flat. Nothing big or deep, but enough that a smallie could be tucked up next to them. I finished the stretch of shoreline, and turned out to the flat. I began fan casting with the chatterbait all around there and then she thumped it. A beautiful 18.75-inch smallie. That was the kind of fish I was looking for. I don’t know if it was a big male or a spawned out female, but it certainly wasn’t prespawn like the first one I caught not 400 yards away. The fish made me smile as I let it go; hopefully to get bigger and some day be the 20-incher I was looking for.

I made my way along catching more and more fish, everything from 4-inch rock bass to 16-inch smallies. I got to the boulder field, but the wind had picked up and there was a wind tunnel effect blowing up from the southwest that made the area unfishable. I had to skip by and just move on to the next bay behind one of the islands. It was getting to be early afternoon and we had agreed that we would have fish for dinner. I told my father that it was catch you own dinner, this way there was no confusion about who’s keeping what. I had to make a decision to make. Go out deep and try to locate lake trout which I would prefer to eat, or continue bass fishing? Since I had been eating lake trout regularly from what I kept during ice fishing season, and I only ever keep bass when camping, I decided I would just fish along and try to find a nice 14-inch bass which would be ideal for my dinner. It wasn’t like there was a shortage of fish, and if anything, the lake was getting stunted from an overpopulation of smaller fish.

I fished along and while I had caught plenty in the 14-inch range in the morning, they suddenly became hard to find. I caught a half dozen 12s, a few low 13s, I was getting a tad worried I wouldn’t find the size I wanted to keep. I just hoped I didn’t catch a 16-incher which would be too big to keep. I approached the old Lodge site which has a nice stone shoreline. In front of the stone was more dead weeds. I found a nice gap where I could cast my exostick right up to the stone and there I pulled out a fat 13.75-inch smallie. This was a perfect eater, just the right size for my dinner. I bled it out, tied it off to a rope, and headed back to camp.

Back at camp my father and I chatted about the days fishing. We then realized that both of us had forgotten our fillet knives. Amateur mistake but we each still had other pocket knives so we made due. We filleted the fish, breaded them, fried em up over the campfire, and had a nice dinner with some rice and peas. The wind seemed to finally be letting up. We just hoped the rain would stay away for Sunday. My father retired to the tent, but I stayed up a little longer watching the campfire die down. I was thinking about all the times I’ve sat on those shores, watching the fire, and thinking how great it was that I had a place like this I get to experience all the time.

Sunday was a cloudy day, but the rain stayed away. The odd thing was there was zero wind. Most of the day the lake had a mirror calm surface which is unusual. It can also make the fishing tough in the clear water. But one thing I learned is that when you have clear, calm water and aggressive smallmouth, they will explode on topwater from down deep. I fished my way over to the shoal which usually produces good fish and it didn’t disappoint. I caught a bunch ranging from 12-16 inches working my black J-walker over the shallows. Still, I didn’t find any big ones. I could have spent all day just fishing around that shoal but I wanted to fish a few other areas still so I moved to the north. Another stream enters the lake and there usually is a big weed point that has produced good fish for me before.

Perfect calm day in the Adirondack Park

Similar to what I found at the south end, the pencil reeds were just starting to come in so the weed point was not fully formed and holding fish. I still managed to find a few in first lily-pads to emerge and some of the pond weed that was growing. I saw a slight rise near some weeds and tossed a Big Bite Super Stick over to it (I was out of my exosticks, and had these old stick baits that needed to get used up). I immediately felt the line move. I reeled down and my line shot off to the side. My drag screamed, and I played it for just a few seconds before *snap* the line broke. I was using an 8-lb fluorocarbon leader, and had recently retied. When I reeled the line in I saw that it had broken at the eye. Not at the knot, not before the knot, but in the loop through the eye. I think the line had twisted over to the joint in the hook eye which must have damaged and weakened the line. It was tough because that was a heavy fish, but oh well, that’s fishing. The day was still young, the weather was great, the fish were biting, and I was literally in my happy place so I quickly brushed it off.

The remainder of the day was more of the same. I switched from a wacky rig to the ned rig because I was tired of losing stick baits, but it didn’t reduce my production. The smallie beavers were still getting bites but I was out of watermelon red flake and had to switch to the corndog color. The topwater bite had slowed, but that was ok. I fished around the islands, made my way to the boulder field and pulled out a nice 17-inch fish. I continued to fish the key areas, but at that point I was paying more attention to my phone.

I had decided to sign up for the father’s day weekend challenge. I didn’t have a big bag, only 86-inches, but it would be nice to upload it. I have had spotty cell service there other years, but for some reason I wasn’t getting any that day. I had one bar here and there, but zero data. I don’t know what changed with the towers, but if I wanted to upload fish I would need to drive out somewhere. I decided if I made an upgrade that would put me over 90-inches, I would drive out to get them uploaded; if not then I would deal with a zero for the event. It was a risk I knew I was taking.

I never did make that upgrade. Just more 14s and 15s. I pedaled back to camp and settled in with some wine for our last night camping. We grilled up a couple steaks, wrapped some potatoes and bacon up in foil to cook over the fire, and heated up some veggies in butter sauce. It was a great final dinner out there. The clouds were clearing off revealing a bright nearly full moon and Venus was clear in the sky next to it. The frogs were croaking, the loons chiming off, and the beaver which had been swimming around made an occasional slap of its tail against the water. It was all so perfect and peaceful. The last night always comes with slight feeling of melancholy knowing we would be leaving the next day.

Last dinner at Camp.

Monday morning came and I got up before the sun to get a few final hours of fishing in. With the clear skies, the night had gotten very cold and with it a thick layer of fog hung low over the lake. You couldn’t see anything beyond 200-feet. Just to get from the island to the shore I needed to check the map on my Helix unit to make sure I wasn’t going in circles. The only area of the lake I hadn’t fished was the eastern end around the launch so I just stayed close to the island and fished there for the morning. With the fog hanging low, I knew the topwater bite would be tough so I stuck with the ned rig and smallie beavers. They continued to produce as they had all weekend with plenty of 12-14 inch bass taking the bait.

It got to be mid morning and my Humminbird Helix unit finally shut off. I had been running the same 10ah battery the entire weekend. I turned the brightness down each day, but I was amazed that I managed to get about 24 hours of run time from it. With my sonar unit off, and me jonesing for my coffee, I decided on one last fish and I would be done. I worked a bank where the pencil reed seemed to be coming in a little better. Had one fish take my last smallie beaver off the hook, so I continued with just the ned rig. I came up on a log in the water, tossed it up by it, and watched my line start off sideways. A nice little 13.5-inch smallie was soon in the boat and that was it. I put my rod back in the rod holder. Looked out across the beautiful sunny lake and just took it all in as I made the short pedal back to camp.

At camp my father was up mulling around the fire making some toast. We stoked up the coals and got the kettle back to boiling for coffee and oatmeal. We slowly broke down camp, packed up the tent, sleeping bags, cookware, and everything else. We loaded all the gear into the kayaks and made one last walk around the island making sure we didn’t leave anything and that any garbage anyone else might have left we cleaned up. Finally we pushed off for the launch with the wind at our backs.

We made the multiple trips back and forth down the 0.3 mile trail hauling all the gear back up to the truck. We chatted with some of the campers just coming in and with the forest ranger making his daily rounds. We carried my father’s kayak back up to his car. He strapped it down while I went back and loaded my kayak up on the cart. As I began to pull my kayak up the trail, I turned back to look at the lake I love, the place I love, to get one final memory of this trip, at least until next year when I hope to be back and experience it all over again.

One Last Look Across the Lake Before Leaving

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