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Pray to the ‘Altar of the Giant Brookie’

October 18, 2008
Joe Hackett, Enterprise Outdoors Columnist

I've recently returned from an extended excursion in pursuit of brook trout on the remote ponds of the St. Regis Canoe Area.

It is an annual outing that I've been fortunate to enjoy for most of the past 30 years or so.

The journey always provides one last glimmer of brook trout and a vacation from my regular vocation.

I actually get to fish all day and I often have someone else rowing the boat.

This year was no different.

We got in early, before the weekend, and set up a comfortable camp.

The next four days we spent pond hopping in search of big brookies, the kind that can make grown men cry.

Although the woods smelled of autumn and the trails were already ankle deep with leaves, the weather was almost summer-like.

A bright sun burned all day as black flies and mosquitoes hung around for one last bite.

In the evenings, temperatures dropped and a fire was welcome company.

Huge flocks of geese could be heard overhead and late into the evening.

A few flocks flew so low over camp that their wing beats could be heard in the crisp night air.

Owls hooted in the distant forest while loons chortled on the ponds and coyote lit up the night with yips and yowls under a brilliant moon.

The trout were mostly quite cooperative and we enjoyed fresh fish every evening. But the one pond we had our hopes for, was slow to turn on.

My fishing friends know where it is, about six miles from nowhere.

The trout are always finicky, and they are always huge.

It's a safe bet that I can be found in the middle part of October, not far from these waters, praying at the "Altar of the Giant Brookie."

The altar isn't much to look at, just a collection of dead and downed trees that have fallen along the shoreline of a windless bay at the pond. But it is where I make my annual autumn pilgrimage.

We look for them there, probing the shoreline debris, watching for

long, greenish torpedoes highlighted by brilliant red and orange

coloration's that are highlighted by the white outlines on the fins.

Pods of spawning male brookies circle the bay by the day, searching for receptive females.

Often these pods number in the dozens, sometimes more. Occasionally, they thrash or splash on the surface with such reckless abandon that it startles an angler.

When a four-pound brookie bursts through the surface, it tends to rattle an angler.

But when a school of twenty or more comparably sized fish swims slowly under your boat, you get the shakes. This is what we were there for and for three days, zilch!

Finally, after tramping through five other ponds, we returned to the Altar for one last shot.

As we paddled into range, there was a a giant splash. Then a second and a third.

Quickly, we rigged our rods and drifted into casting range. First cast, first fish; not a giant, but a handsome male nonetheless.

We hooked into fish on the next three consecutive casts, two males and a small female.

It was growing late, getting darker and we kept at it.

Two more casts and two more trout. "This is too easy," I thought, and then it was over.

Just as fast as it turned on, it turned off.

We had our fun and we had dinner. I've never spent a lot of time in church but for as long as I can hump a boat that far.

I'll be praying at the Altar every October.

The transitional season

Although Columbus Day weekend has long been the benchmark by which to gauge the end of the traditional 'tourist season' in the Adirondacks, the traditional opening of the regular big-game season would serve as a much more appropriate date.

The opener of the regular big-game season occurs on Saturday, October 18 this year.

The start of the regular big-game season always provides a final punctuation mark on the transition of seasons.

It occurs after the tourists have left and most of the trout anglers have gone home.

Trout season ended on October 15.

But it is more than that. The big-game hunting season is a time frame that signals a return to the long established traditions that live on in the heritage of the North Country.

It takes people to a place where relationships are renewed, stories are passed down and a peculiar camaraderie returns amidst the thrill of the hunt.

Hunting season instantly transports enthusiasts to a place where little else matters beyond the pursuit of following a fresh track or glimpsing a tail flag as it bounds over a ridge.

For many veterans of the hunt, this season holds particular significance. It is the first season in history that 14 year olds can legally participate in the hunt.

Experienced hunters should make an effort to take a youngster hunting this year; it is the only sure method to ensure your hunting values and ethics are passed along.

The woods are slow to open up this year, as the majority of fall foliage is yet to drop and the under story remains thick.

However, a few days of strong winds and heavy rains will serve to deplete the hardwood forest cover to finally provide long, wide views for the hunt.

On Saturday morning, I expect to see a number of pickup trucks scattered along the roadsides and I'm certain to hear the report of rifle-fire from the woodlands. Local diners will fill up early with plaid or camo clad visitors eager for a quick cup of coffee and a hearty breakfast.

Hunt hard and hunt safe!



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