Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: An enjoyable, but hot fishing trip to the Ausable River

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Recently I spen ta few days fly fishing with friends Paul Knauth and Allen Gray on the Ausable River in and around Wilmington, N.Y. (near Lake Placid). Like last year, Paul and I opted to bring along our bamboo rods.

I chose to use my Orvis rod, which was once owned by the late Russell Chenail of North Adams. I purchased it from his niece in 2018. The rod was built in 1967. The reel I used was a Pflueger Medalist Model 1494 , which was once owned by the late Charles Lahey of Pittsfield.

You may remember Charlie, for he was a close friend about whom I often wrote. At the age of 101, he was still casting a fly, more specifically, his Mad River Special bucktail that he created many years ago and was still catching fish. You may recall that Charlie was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisc. After his death, in 2010, his daughter, Andrea Dimassimo, gave me most of his fishing equipment, including that reel.

"He would want you to have it," Andrea said.

I also took along a wading staff that once belonged to the late Robert Marsden of Stockbridge. A lot of his equipment ended up in my hands, thanks to his widow Jorja. Most of that equipment will be put into raffles and fund raisers which are held by the Taconic Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen, and other worthwhile non-profit organizations. But I digress.

Like last year, Paul brought along his Phillipson PaceMaker bamboo rod which was built sometime between 1946 and 1951.

Allen preferred to use his tried and trusted modern graphite rods and reel.

We rented one of the cabins at the Wilderness Inn in Wilmington, N.Y. We weren't interested in one of their larger cabins, simply one which could accommodate three anglers with a refrigerator, microwave and TV. Thanks to Paul, all we had to do was reheat the prepared all of the food he brought This was especially nice as we fished until after 9 p.m. and didn't get to our cabin until around 10. Who wants to cook at that time of day?

We practiced social distancing, wore masks, and constantly washed our hands as much as possible all during the trip.

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On the way to check into our cabin, we passed many popular fishing areas on the river with no one fishing. It looked like we were going to be able to get onto the best fishing spots, but wondered why? We found out the answer. The Ausable River was rather low, due to the drought that they also are experiencing. Perhaps Covid-19 had something to do with it also.

On the afternoon of arrival and into that evening, we fished what we considered one of the best spots on the river, and, with the exception of some very small fish got skunked. There were mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies flying around, but the fish, if they were there, didn't show themselves. On the way back to the cabin we stopped and checked another usually productive area. Same thing.

That evening after eating, Paul and I sat up discussed the fishing situation and other topics well into the morning.

We didn't resolve anything, for the next morning, we fished another area which usually provided excellent fishing action. The problem there was that the usually good runs were quite shallow and yielded no fish save a few caught below the dam of Lake Everest, which were caught on Charlie's reel. Once again there were flies hatching, but no fish were after them. Around noon, it really got hot (80 degrees) and we went back to the cabin to take it easy until the early evening.

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We chose an area on the river which had two tremendous fishing holes, deep and fishy looking. Once again, zilch! We saw mayflies, including rare green drakes, but the fish weren't rising for them. The green drake (Ephemera guttulate) only comes out about two weeks in the year. It was as if we were fishing over fishless waters and we were perplexed. On top of that, we were roasting in our hot waders. The Ausable is a fairly large river and anglers usually are in wide open areas, exposed to the hot sun and little shade.

On our last fishing day, we opted to get out on the river much earlier in the morning with the hopes that fish would be active in the cooler water. We fished an area far from the beaten path. There we started picking up some fish. It was the first time we had seen any fish activity at all.

We quit around noon to get out of the heat, but returned to the same area that evening, and caught a few more fish. We didn't really catch any monsters, I think Paul and Allen each caught a fish measuring around 14 inches. My biggest fish for the trip was no more than 9 inches. I did hook two beauties on an imitation green drake mayfly but both of them spit the fly back at me.

In spite of being there in the prime fly fishing season (mid-June), the total take was probably 5 or 6 fish each for the 3-day trip. Why the fishing was so dismal? Probably due to the warm, low water. Most of the fish that I caught were on terrestrial flies (verses aquatic flies) such as the grasshopper and lady bug. I expected a poor showing, but I didn't expect the others to have similar luck.

Why did I expect it? Well, call it predestination. It goes back to an old saying which I read in a fly-fishing book written by Douglas McCraith in 1929 entitled "By Dancing Streams." In the book's preface, he wrote: "It has been said that with a certain degree of truth that, `Those who can fish can't write, and those who can write, can't fish." Hey! That's my excuse, assuming you buy into me being one of, "those who can write."

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In spite of the fact that the river was not producing as we would have liked, we had a wonderful, memorable trip, filled with good company, good food and plenty of nostalgia. As I wrote in last year's column, we were fishing in a gorgeous area, the foot of Whiteface Mountain. It doesn't get much better than that.

Incidentally, the whole trip cost less than $200 pp for the 3-day trip. That includes the food, lodging and gas. Cheap dates, ey?

About the drought: On June 23, the N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos issued an alert stating that "the dry weather and warming temperatures have elevated the risk of fires statewide, particularly across eastern New York. I encourage New Yorkers to use safety precautions to help prevent wildfire outbreaks. The last widespread rainfall we saw was more than a full week ago and over the last month, some parts of the state are 90 percent below normal rainfall levels."

Cyanobacteria discovered in Plunkett Lake

If you are planning on fishing Plunkett Lake in Hinsdale, better check to see if it is open. The day after the application of weed herbicide on Tuesday, June 23, an ugly looking algae appeared on the water. Local bass angler Dan Miraglia, who was doing some work on a cottage on the lake saw it and immediately notified the Town Manager who also contacted the Board of Health. After checking it out, they immediately closed the lake to swimming and fishing. It was subsequently identified as cyanobacteria. Warning posters were immediately placed there. As of this writing date, the lake was still closed.

To find out more about it and Board of Health recommendations, click onto the Town of Hinsdale web page. Another good source of information about cyanobacteria is https://www.epa.gov/cyanohabs/causes-cyanohabs.

I hope to have an update on this in next week's column.

Gene Chague can be reached at berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com or 413-637-1818.


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