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Weather appears on the rebound; 30 years in the woods

May 23, 2009
Joe Hackett

Following a week that saw evening temperatures dropping into the 20's, the weather appears to have rebounded quite nicely for the upcoming weekend.

While paddlers competing in the annual 'Round the Mountain canoe race faced driving rain, high winds, big waves and 55-degree water temperatures, I expect to find more comfortable conditions on the area lakes and ponds in the coming week.

Although cooler temperatures and a recent frost may have eliminated the first wave of blackflies, travelers can expect to find a new batch of the notorious, biting bandits in the air as temperatures push into the 80-degree range.

Article Photos

A youthful Joe Hackett (left) and his angling mentor, Bill Strong, pose with a nice stringer of brook trout taken on Lows Lake in the late 1970's.

Last week's rains raised water levels on most area rivers and streams and at the same time, kept the water temperatures in the 40's.

Ken Kalil at Jones Outfitters reports that fly hatches have been rather slow to pop, except in some of the lower sections of the AuSable.

The Saranac River and it's North Branch remain swollen. Since they both drain from the lakes, it will take a bit longer for them to flush than the AuSable, which flows with a much steeper gradient out of the High Peaks.

Thirty years in the woods

For over 30 years, I have earned a living as a professional guide. I have been most fortunate to have turned an avocation into a vocation.

And despite long hours of bug bitten days, carrying boats across muddy carries so a guest can cast flies to finicky fish; I'm still unwilling to trade in my leaky waders for a business suit.

I didn't stumble into the profession, as many have. I pursued it by gearing my education and work experience towards a goal.

With a few strokes of luck and connections with the right properties, I was able to develop a following of loyal "sports" who appreciated the opportunity to cast a delicate fly to rising trout while enjoying the solitude of a remote Adirondack stillwater.

Raised in Elizabethtown, I grew up surrounded by mountains - in a pleasant little valley laced with rivers, streams and brooks. In the summer, entertainment was delivered at the end of a fishing rod, while a worn out Sting Ray bike served as transportation. It was a time when worms were dug, not purchased.

I learned to navigate by hiking the nearby hills and mountains and picked up paddling when a good friend got a canoe as a gift.

But the greatest influence on my eventual career choice came from a diverse collection of local characters. Looking back, these folks were mentors and I was a sponge, soaking up their every word.

My first impression of the "Big Woods" came from an old, French Canadian trapper named Ennis Fessette. Ennis, who lived in an old, run down shack on the outskirts of town, would marvel the kids with tales of hunting and trapping in the Cold River valley with the old hermit, Noah Rondeau.

He showed us how to make bows and arrows, which we used to hunt frogs. I remember once frying up a meal that consisted of frog legs, brook trout and crawfish.

Geoffrey Carleton was another local character of renown. He lived high on the side of Cobble Hill and was highly regarded as a birder. In fact, he wrote the book, Birds of Essex County.

He was affectionately known as "Sneakers," due to a pair of size 14, Converse Chuckie T's that always adorned his feet, regardless of a suit and tie.

Geoff attempted to teach me to be a birder while taking me on hikes in the nearby High Peaks. It wasn't to be, although I did learn to identify most of the common birds of prey. I regret such youthful oversights.

His wife would always pack us peanut butter sandwiches, featuring homemade bread spread with a concoction of peanut chunks mixed in hard slabs of butter. It took a full gulp of water to wash that mix down the tube.

Though I learned a lot from my friend's fathers, it was Harold Strong that showed me how to fish brook trout on the ponds. We called him Ol' Bill and he was a fine fisherman and an outstanding carpenter. Bill was responsible for turning many local kids, and a few lucky adults, into brook trout fanatics.

Most local communities used to have a similar collection of sorts. I often wonder if they still exist in our small towns. It was a different generation in a different time. There were no parental fears of ulterior motives. Child abduction was an aberration.

Today's youth could certainly benefit from such opportunities. Historically, rural communities have had little to offer in the way of structured entertainment for area youth. They don't have the movie theaters, the malls, civic centers or recreation departments common to the larger towns.

Small towns must make due with the resources available, which are primarily their local woods and waters, the natural resources. These are attractions that bring travelers to the park from all over the world. These are the region's most valuable commodities in terms of entertainment. Sadly, in many cases, visitors are more likely to take advantage of these treasures than the local population.

If our children lack the tools, skills and knowledge to fully enjoy their surroundings, they are at a severe disadvantage. While they may be resource-rich, when it comes to enjoying the region's greatest assets, our youth are underprivileged and penniless.

Utilization of the local woods and waters is integral to the the health and welfare of our children. Efforts must be made to instill our kids with the "life skills" to effectively enjoy the environment in a positive way.

If kids don't possess the skills to ski or skate, fish and hike, paddle or peddle, there are very few recreational options. Without the availability of readily accessible positive recreational pursuits, kids are much more likely to become involved in easily accessible negative recreational options.



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