Fourth of July weekend traditionally signals the launch of the Adirondacks' summer tourism season. It is also one of the busiest weekends of the year for outdoor recreation, as both visitors and local residents take to the woods and waters.
Often by this point in the year, outdoor recreation is nearing its peak across the nation. However, a combination of factors, including heavy rains, flooding and severe storms, have mixed with scorching heat, wildfires and drought to limit opportunities for many to safely enjoy the outdoors.
In addition to the extreme weather patterns, opportunities for vacation travel have also been affected by a floundering economy and soaring gas prices. Fortunately for the Adirondack region, a recent survey indicates that, "the nation's love affair with the great outdoors remains strong," and that nearly one-third of all leisure travelers plan to visit a national or state park this year.
A lone angler casts a fly to rising trout along a desolate stretch of the AuSable River.
Our region is ideally suited to the desires of such travelers who expressed plans to "go to a beach or a lake," which ranked first (47.2 percent) in outdoor activities, and "go to small towns or villages," which was second on the list (41.4 percent).
According to the 2010 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report conducted by The Outdoor Foundation, "More than 137.8 million Americans participated in some form of outdoor recreation" in the past year. This total equates to nearly 50 percent of all Americans, ages 6 and older. Combined, the total number of traveler days accounted for over 10 billion outdoor outings.
The Adirondack region, located within a day's travel for over 70 million travelers, is likely to attract a lot of attention this season.
Summer has long been considered the briefest of all Adirondack seasons, tucked into a short timeframe that loosely spans a period lasting from the Fourth of July until Labor Day.
However in recent years, it appears the summer season has expanded. It has been stretched by both the availability of popular events and shorter visits. Although visitors no longer stay as long as they may have in the past, they now travel more frequently for brief visits.
There is no denying the fact that weather patterns have also contributed to this emerging tourism trend. September's temperatures now rival August, while the familiar Indian summers of October now have big game hunters attired in cotton camo T-shirts for most of the month, rather than dressed in the expected union suits and wearing heavy, wool plaid outfits.
Despite the obvious changes in weather patterns, there is never a better opportunity to enjoy the wealth of healthy Adirondack activities than during the summer. It is almost impossible to list them all.
However, a short sample of my favorite summer pursuits would have to include watching the sunrise from atop a lonely mountaintop, as a clear, cobalt blue sky unfolds and the whole Park appears to be underfoot.
I'd follow with a visit to a local soft ice cream stand and continue on with a quick dip in the cool waters of a small mountain stream, with at least one launch off the rope swing into a deep pool.
I'd then take my motorcycle to Blue Mountain Lake, where on Sundays admission is free at the Adirondack Museum for all local residents. On the return trip, I'd visit the lonely Forked Lake to cast a few poppers for smallmouth bass.
If I had the time, I'd stop in Long Lake for a quick scenic flight in one of Helm's seaplanes, before traveling on to Tupper Lake to visit some of the great crafts and antique shops on Park Street.
Of course, if I were in Tupper, I'd have to check out the Wild Center and eat a bug souffle or listen as tribute band The Beatles Revolution performs at their Fourth of July BuzzzFest. Where else but the Adirondacks are insects both scorned and celebrated?
Most certainly, I pay a visit to a local diner for a quick cup of coffee and a slice of fresh pie, and follow it up with a brief stop to skip some stones across the glassy surface of a small pond.
I'd probably end up stopping at a local fundraising event, where a hearty barbecue meal would give me the energy to continue my quest.
In most any town, I could find a grassy hillside where families and friends would be gathered to watch as the black night sky is illuminated with the burst of fireworks and the booms resound off the nearby peaks.
Finally, I'd settle into a comfortable camp chair and stare in silence, mesmerized by a fire as it flickers into a bed of hot coals. As the evening cools and a moon appears in the dark night sky, the loons and owls would offer up a marvelous backwoods symphony, harmonized with the yips and yowls of the coyotes and the deep "Jug-O-Rum" of bullfrogs singing in the nearby bog.
Sleep would come easy as the cool evening air chases away the heat of the day and the lake mist envelopes the scene, and the moon sets to complete an eerily still mood.
The fishing report
Following a week of high temperatures and little rain, most area rivers and streams have returned to manageable water levels. Mountain streams with steeper gradients such as the AuSable and the Boquet will flush quickly after a rain, while the Saranac, St. Regis and the Raquette drain slower due to lakes and other impoundments.
As area waterways return to normal summer conditions, anglers can expect fishing conditions to improve. Water temperatures are currently rising into the mid 70s on most of the region's rivers and lakes, as bass and pike become more active and trout retreat to the deeper, cooler confines.
Anglers seeking opportunities on Adirondack lakes or ponds would be wise to fish inlets or feeder streams. Most productive will be streams or rivers that drop over a steep gradient before entering a lake, which bring in waters of higher oxygen content.
Anglers should note that the small, canopy-shaded mountain streams will also provide fine dry fly action for brook trout, even in the heat of the day.
Most refreshing on a hot, humid day are the smaller mountain streams such as The Branch, the North or South Fork of the Boquet, Slide Brook, Cascade Brook or Gulf Brook. Generally these smaller mountain streams will have water temperatures that run about 5 or 6 degrees cooler than waters in the larger rivers.
The Hex is on
The big story for the week is the return of the much anticipated Hexigenia mayfly. The Hex, always a sure bet for producing big fish on most area lakes and ponds, remains one of the most well-regarded hatches of the season on area lakes. The hatch consistently produces large trout on both Lake Placid and Mirror Lake.
Appearing in late June, the Hex hatch usually arrives a week before July Fourth and for two weeks after. However, sporadic hatches will often continue for the remainder of the summer. So far, Mirror Lake has been the epicenter of hex activity, however, the big flies should be popping on Lake Placid soon.
The hex hatch also occurs on the Saranac Chain of Lakes, where the large, pale green mayfly appears as popular with bass as it is with trout.
Imitating this insect with either an emerger pattern or by using a Hornberg streamer as a dry fly often accounts for some huge smallmouth bass. Imparting a twitch to the dry pattern often proves essential in provoking a strike. The best results are often achieved when an angler skates or skitters the fly. This action is likely to provoke a strike when fish are either very wary or too lethargic to show interest.
For other area trout streams, suggested fly patterns should include Olive, Brown or Tan Caddis, Light Cahills, Golden Stones, Cream Variants, Sulfurs, Blue Wing Olives, Pale Evening Duns, Haystacks and large stimulator patterns such as AuSable Bombers.
The Green Drakes have been hatching on the West Branch of the AuSable, however the hatch has been very sporadic and the ever-popular spinner falls have been few and far between, to date.
Mornings and evenings will provide anglers with the best opportunities on the larger rivers, while the small streams have been producing quite well throughout the day. The slowest action occurs during the heat of the day, especially on bright, sunny days.
With the high sun, fly fishing anglers would do well to fish below the surface with either streamers or nymphs, using patterns such as muddler minnows, stone flies or a hares ear.
Bass are really turning on, with excellent topwater action typical in the late afternoon and into the early evening as the surface grows flat. This will continue for the next few weeks as the hex hatch provokes continued surface action.
The Saranacs will offer some of the best action, but don't overlook such local hot spots as Barnum Pond or Meacham Lake.
Other productive bass waters worth a try include Jones Pond in Gabriels and both the Raquette and Osgood rivers. And don't forget Lake Placid and Mirror Lake where the hex is an annual delight for fish of all species.