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Hope paddling park won’t block fishing like last one did

Having grown up about a quarter-mile from the dam/police station, some of my fondest childhood memories were made fishing this section of the Saranac River. Kids from Jenkins, Lake, South Hope, Petrova and other surrounding neighborhoods would spend countless hours fishing and playing in these waters daily throughout the summer months.

It is one of the best fishing spots due to the variety of species caught at anytime. Personally, we never knew what would be on the end of the line. Rainbows, browns, pike, smallmouth, largemouth, bullhead, rock bass, perch, sunfish, shiners, suckers and the ever-elusive walleye were all regulars to both novice and experts alike. Another great feature on that section of the river was it was very easy to catch your own bait. Catching crawfish under the LaPan Highway bridge, fly fishing for shiners at the end of the peninsula, minnow traps in some of the overflow pipes that bypass the dam, all made for endless summer fishing days and really made our group of friends appreciate our great spot in the middle of town.

The best feature about this section of the river was the ease of access and the ability to fly fish. My father and grandfather gave many of us our first fly fishing lessons at the dam. We didn’t have to wade in the water and there were no trees out on the peninsula, so it was a perfect spot for beginners. We went on fly fishing this area for many years until the early to mid ’90s, when a kayak/whitewater feature was built called the Hydro Point Project. Because of the many wires that were strung across the river to hold features in place for the course, it was the end of our fly fishing days at the dam. The wires and posts that surrounded the fishing grounds not only eliminated fly fishing for beginners and experts alike, it greatly reduced the ease to use spinning tackle as well. This was evident with the countless and unsightly lures, bobbers and tangled lines hanging from the wires.

The Beaver Park sandbar (across from the old police station) was also an excellent spot (big pike and browns) due to some depth. In my opinion, because of the rock infrastructure added for the course under the LaPan Highway bridge, this area was never the same, and the “sandbar” was no longer an accessible location. As our fishing spots were ruined, we all began to drive to the AuSable River and the streams that fed it. We were trading in our usual lunches at Owl’s Nest or snacks at the Yum Yum Tree and stopping at the Corner Store in Lake Placid. The worst part, and the trouble we had understanding as teenagers, was that we never saw anyone using the whitewater course on a regular basis. We felt that our great spot, and the best fishing area around for kids, was ruined so a couple of people could practice whitewater kayaking in a very small and flow-controlled area. (Many times in the summer, no flow goes over the dam and the gates are closed, creating calm waters.)

Flash forward 10 years or so (early-mid 2000s I think), and the wires were removed (fence was still up but can get around if needed) and the ability to effectively fish the area was possible again. This was great news for anyone in the fishing community, and we were all happy to have our spot back. I am sure the casual observer of the dam and park enjoyed it much better without all the tackle hanging from the wires as well.

Growing up canoe fishing on the Saranac River and kayaking in our many lakes, I understood the desire for a whitewater course in the ’90s as I do now, but please consider a change of location so we do not take away the most valuable fishing location in our community for a second time. The years have passed by and some infrastructure changes have been made, but the area is still a fishing destination in its current form. The park even has a fishing guide to the species you may catch in the Saranac River and is the starting point to the River Walk (I believe another Hydro Point project). My questions going forward on the project will revolve around, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” How will usage of the whitewater park compare to the number of fisherman in the area? Will the whitewater park be kid friendly and accessible for beginning and novice paddlers? These are just a few basic questions about the project, and I also wonder what a long-term investment in a regional/national fishing tournament on the river would do to tourism in the community. The Colby Classic is getting more and more successful every year, and a larger summer tournament could have excellent economic benefits as well.

If a $400,000 investment in a whitewater park is something that brings in much-needed tourism dollars, excellent. I am all for it. If the effects on the fishing spot and environment are negligible, even better! Interest lacked the last time around, and many in the fishing community were left scratching there heads. I hope a suitable compromise can be found to ensure new development along the river while protecting our past.

As I am no longer a resident of Saranac Lake but visit my parents regularly. I will still get up early in the morning to go down to the dam and look for fish any time I am back in town. What a great spot! Fishermen never tell their great spots, but if you grew up in Saranac Lake, we all know this is no secret.

David Dudones lives in Brewster.

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