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Raquette River revisted, this time with a motor

September 11, 2010
By Joe Hackett, Enterprise Outdoors Columnist

After paddling down the Raquette River last week, I decided to take a trip up the river the following week, with a plan to do a little fishing along the river and to visit Raquette Falls. Once again, I had my friend Eric Granger in tow as I maneuvered a small motorboat through the river's sinuous channel from Axton Landing to the Falls.

The water levels were extremely low and I was forced to trim the motor on several occasions. On the journey upstream, the river was nearly vacant, except for a few kayakers along one shore.

Wood smoke was evident coming from one of the lean-tos, but otherwise there was little sign of campers or paddlers.

Article Photos

Joe Hackett displays a smallmouth bass that he took recently along the Raquette River.
(Photo provided)

When we reached the landing at the Falls there was only one other boat in sight, and it belonged to Gary Valentine, the Interior Ranger.

Eric and I had planned to fish the whitewater section of the Raquette, starting from below the Upper Falls all the way to the Lower Falls. We figured that since most people traveling the river were forced to carry around the falls, the section was likely to see little fishing pressure.

While talking with Valentine, we learned the old trail along the river had recently been cleared. It was good news.

The river corridor offers nearly a mile-long stretch of classic staircase rapids, which were punctuated at the top and bottom by two large waterfalls. In ordinary levels, the river appears to be a long, frothing snake, slithering its way through a massive rock garden. It's no wonder that signage informs the public that a carry is "mandatory."

Eric decided to take the carry so that he could fish downstream, while I headed upstream. Over the course of the day, we encountered few other travelers on this section as most stop only to visit the Lower Falls.

With the low water levels, the rapids were not as intimidating as usual. Yet, the fishing was extraordinary with nearly every pocket and pool yielding at least a couple of smallmouth bass.

The obvious lack of fishing pressure combined with a tumbling current that pumped oxygen into the water to produce a lot of strong and active fish. However, neither of us managed to take one over 12 inches in length.

It was while returning downstream late in the day that we discovered the best fishing of the journey. On the sharp river bends, we caught several nice bass and also found a few pike.

As expected, the fish were most active as the daylight waned. In attempts to get off the river before darkness enveloped the scene, I repeatedly hit the throttle, while Eric begged for just one last cast.

We pulled into Axton Landing with just enough daylight to load the trailer and more than enough stories to entertain anyone willing to listen.

Hunters dodge the EPA bullet, but anglers are sunk

In early August, I reported that the American Bird Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, Association of Avian Veterinarians, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Project Gutpile, a California-based hunters advocacy group, had joined together to petition the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the use of lead in the manufacture of bullets and shot for ammunition, as well as in fishing tackle.

Lead shot, which was once commonly used, has been banned in waterfowl hunting under federal statute for decades. The ban on lead shot was intended to protect both the wetland habitat and waterfowl, which have been known to ingest lead shot that when digested by stomach acids can result in poisoning.

Currently, over two dozen states have restricted the use of lead ammunition to minimize effects on game birds, eagles and other species.

However, lead is still utilized in the manufacture of most other types of ammunition and lead shot is still permitted in a majority of states for hunting upland game birds such as ruffed grouse, quail, pheasant, woodcock and turkey.

The EPA agreed to formally review a petition by exercising powers granted to the agency under the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976. However, the EPA later denied the petition's request regarding lead ammunition on the grounds that when the Toxic Substances Control Act was enacted, Congress expressly exempted ammunition from being regulated as a "toxic substance."

Back in the 1970s, our Congressmen and women determined that lead was not considered "toxic" when used as a bullet. I guess it depends on whose finger is on the trigger.

The agency explained in response to the petition, "The EPA reached this decision because the agency does not have the legal authority to regulate this type of product under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), nor is the agency seeking such authority."

While shooting sports advocates and gun rights groups heralded the initial decision that "the agency does not have the legal authority to regulate this type of product," they were even more enthusiastic with the inclusion of the last sentence, "nor is the agency seeking such authority."

Effectively, the sentence states that the EPA will continue to avoid the responsibility for regulating lead as used in ammunition.

In California, there already is a limited ban on lead-based ammunition, which is intended to protect endangered California condors. The law prohibits the use of projectiles containing lead for hunting deer, bear, wild pig, elk and pronghorn antelope in areas designated as a California condor range, which extends from the border of Mexico and covers about a third of the state.

Despite claims from various firearms advocacy groups that the law was actually a "backdoor gun grab," there appears to have been wide acceptance and compliance of the ban and related law enforcement efforts.

The National Shooting Sports Association, which was a national leader in efforts to confront the EPA Petition, argued that a proposed ban on traditional ammunition would have resulted in a negative impact on wildlife conservation, since the 11 percent federal excise tax that is collected on the sale of the ammunition is a primary source of wildlife conservation funding.

It is difficult to escape the irony that in the United States, home of the world's greatest conservation model which is responsible for the preservation of innumerable species and their habitat, the funding is primarily derived through a Federal excise tax on hunting and fishing equipment, which includes the very items that the petitioners sought to ban.

Despite a rejection of the petition's call for a ban on lead ammunition, the EPA, is required by law to formally continue the review of the petition's request to regulate lead used in fishing tackle, primarily for sinkers.

Several countries, including Great Britain and Canada and at least fives states, including New York and Vermont, have already banned the use and/or sale of lead sinkers under a certain size.

Although alternatives such as tin or tungsten are now used for angling purposes, they have proven to be marginally more expensive and they do not perform nearly as effectively as lead. However, the majority of anglers have learned to live with the restrictions.

Despite this fact, Cabela's, the country's largest outdoor equipment company is currently sending a message to its customers explaining that the retailer has joined the American Sportfishing Association and Keep America Fishing to oppose a petition that was filed on Aug. 23 by the Center for Biological Diversity and others. Public comments will only be accepted until Sept. 15.

"Occasionally, an issue of such importance arises we feel it necessary to contact our loyal customers. With our fishing rights at stake, this is such an issue."

The message asks anglers to join Cabela's and Keep America Fishing in opposing the petition by submitting comments to the EPA by no later than Sept. 15. Comments can be sent to the EPA regarding the CBD petition at their website: http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#submitComment?R=0900006480b3f0cd.

It is also enlightening to note another of the Center for Biological Diversity's far-reaching efforts that came with the establishment of their Endangered Species Condoms Project.

According to their website, the "Center has distributed 350,000 free Endangered Species Condoms to highlight how overpopulation is driving species extinct at a cataclysmic rate. Get yours!"

I have to wonder who was actually responsible for designing an "endangered species" condom. It must have taken a lot of patience.

 
 

 

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