Warm weather has finally arrived in the Adirondacks and with it, the spring. Finally, peepers are sounding from the bogs and kingfishers are chattering along the streams. Ponds are opening up, trees have begun to bud, and pussywillows have revealed their velvety fronds.
A daily influx of migrating birds offers up their fresh notes, and the earth is alive again. Surely the rains will come and mud season will be upon us. Frost heaves will challenge drivers, and the earth warms to welcome the new season.
Silvery smelt will invade the lake's tributaries, and suckers will follow along in short order.
Wild turkeys are evident in the open fields while whitetail deer gather to browse along the edges. Soon, the matted brown grasses will begin to show their green, and spring will bring rebirth to the earth in one of the most exciting seasons for natural travelers.
It is a time of delight and discovery as birders collect sightings of new arrivals and add the occasional odd vagrant to their life lists. Ducks will take to the rivers and geese to the lakes.
Anglers will troll on open water in pursuit of brook and lake trout while fly fishermen will be on the rivers whipping delicate casts with their long rods to present a fur and feathered fly to holdover brown and rainbow trout.
Canoes and kayaks will sprout from cartop racks like fiddleheads from the forest floor as paddlers take to the lakes and squirt-boaters challenge the raging creeks.
Along the mighty Hudson, paddlers will don wetsuits and pile into the rafts for a thrill ride through the river's raging gorge. Meanwhile, diehard skiers will be laying down tracks on corn snow near the river's source, high on the shoulders of Mt. Marcy, hoping for one last run.
In the matter of a few short weeks, the landscape will be transformed, as a wave of green sweeps over the earth to brush away the dull monotones of winter.
The kindness of strangers
In typical haste to locate ice-free water last Friday, I checked with a number of friends. After receiving confirmation, I packed up gear, loaded a guideboat and headed off with Tom, a regular angling companion.
With a bit of ice breaking, we were on the water and trolling for brookies before the morning sun had reached the far end of the pond. Before I managed two casts, Tom landed the first trout of the season.
Soon we were joined by another friend, Ben, and the process continued. While they trolled, I tossed a variety of offerings, to no avail. While Ben's luck matched my own, Tom continued to catch fish. He had the hot hand. I had only a few strikes.
The following day, with three of us again in the boat, it was more of the same. Tom couldn't miss, and nothing I offered could produce a strike.
By our third morning on the water, I was getting the shakes and beginning to have serious doubts about my angling skills. Tom showed up early, and we decided to try out Mirror Lake with Bill, another old friend, visiting from Plattsburgh.
We launched the boat on Mirror Lake near the beach, and before we had traveled 50 yards, Tom hooked into a nice rainbow. Within a few minutes of the first catch, he brought another one to the boat. My frustration grew and doubt continued with my drought.
The steady breeze blowing across the lake was cooled by the last remaining ice covering the lake.
Even if I couldn't catch a fish, I was certain I could catch a cold. So, shivering and humbled, I signaled for a retreat.
After a quick lunch, the warm afternoon sun beckoned. I suggested a return to the scene of the previous day's action with hopes that I could eventually get on the board.
With Bill in tow, Tom and I hauled the boat to the pond and launched. The streak continued as Tom landed a brookie within casting range of the launch. Soon after, Bill brought in a nice one. I sunk deeper into a fishless funk.
After a few laps around the pond, they each had a few brookies in the boat and I still couldn't manage to put one on the line. The magic was gone, my angling skills depleted. My confidence sank like an anchor without a rope.
As the pair continued to haul fish in, I grew silent in despair. Finally, in a charitable moment, Tom suggested that I use a small, black jig, explaining, "It was always my 'go to' choice when I had to catch a fish."
By now, I was willing to try anything short of a mask and snorkel. But despite having invested hours sorting through boxes and boxes of lures the previous evening, the only lure missing from my tackle box was a small, black jig.
The pressure of three fishless days was building, and as my breaking point neared, Bill produced the required jig and kindly offered it to me.
A few casts later, salvation arrived as a 17-inch brook trout slipped into the net.
"Alright, we can go home now," I declared, admiring the fish. The curse was finally broken, and I was relieved.
However, another curse promptly followed.
"You're not going anywhere unless you want to swim to shore," Tom barked as he pulled on the oars. "I've still got fish to catch."
There would be no kindness among strangers, I thought, but it's really strange that these guys could have been so kind.