When Adirondack ponds finally shed winter's hard cap, it will be the beginning of my 33rd season guiding guests on local streams and other faraway waters.
I was reminded of this while attending a recent sportsmen's event in Schroon Lake and while contemplating the upcoming 30th annual Guides Rendezvous in Lake Placid.
During the month of March, these two annual events serve to jump-start the spring season, irregardless of current weather patterns.
Backwoods ponds like this one can be accessed in several ways, depending on your knowledge of the area.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)
The month holds special significance for me. I was born and also married in March. Conveniently, our anniversary is celebrated on the same day as my Irish heritage.
The month begins a long stretch of research and preparation, and a lot of waiting and wondering. I spend time repairing, replacing and refurbishing rods, reels and other tackle, but I also devote a great deal of effort to research. I cover stocking reports and fisheries surveys and I speak with other anglers, forest rangers and state Department of Environmental Conservation fisheries biologists.
I never fail to check in with the fine folks at the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corp. This dedicated group of scientists, quartered in the basement of DEC Region 5 headquarters, provide some of the most current information regarding the many Airondack waters. They also have very helpful depth charts which feature the locations of inlets and outlets.
While trout season officiallly begins on April 1, my season often starts in early March, even though I'll rarely wet a line before the first of May. In the two months between I search for trout on maps, reports, charts and annual surveys.
I also speak with many old-time brook trout enthusiasts, the many fishermen and women who can no longer venture back to their favorite haunts. Despite their limitations, and likely because of them, many still want to know how their "honey holes" are holding up.
Sending a young scout to do their business gives them a chance to fish their ponds by proxy. I've been turned onto a long-forgotten trout pond when an old angler asked, "Have you ever been into Shangri La Pond?"
If I haven't, I likely will before the new season is over, and I'm always happy to return with the results, which are always cleaned and ready for the frying pan.
Even ponds that can't be found on the map, such as Shangri La, are still worth the effort. Sharing adventures with trout veterans fosters a generational exchange of backcountry knowledge.
After talking trout ponds, one old angler asked me, "Do you like to hunt deer too?" My ears were wide open for the next hour.
There are centuries of wildwood wisdom stored in our local retirement communities, including a wealth of valuable information about where trout spawn, the location of springholes and other useful tips.
These are places where a simple conversation can provide eye-opening opportunities, especially in regard to access. While current maps readily reveal marked trails to the ponds, I've discovered there are many ways to "skin a cat."
Most ponds have numerous points of access, often only known to locals. I was reminded of this fact on a cold, snowy day in May of 1986.
The enlightening moment arrived after I had traveled four miles on a slippery, snow-covered trail, while wobbling under a pack loaded heavy with an inflatable raft.
Struggling through the deep, wet snow, I slipped and stumbled along for about two hours before arriving wet with sweat and covered by snow and slop.
The water was flat and particularly black against the surrounding whiteness. I hurried to inflate the little boat with a footpump and when it was done I fumbled with cold wet fingers to rig the pack rods for a troll around "my" secret pond.
I launched from a little cove where the rest of the waterbody was hidden from view. Snow acumulated on my lap and a brisk breeze kicked up as I waited for action.
It didn't take long and the first strike bowed my rod like overcooked spaghetti. It was a good fish and it fought all the way to the net, a handsome 16-inch brookie.
I reset the rods and with just one pull on the oars there was another brookie, and then more. In no time, I was approaching the bag limit.
My teeth were chattering like a red squirrel at the bird feeder and thoughts of a warm fire drifted through my mind. But I had worked hard, the fishing was fantastic and I had the pond all to myself. A wide grin framed my chattering dentures and I continued the adventure.
About the same time, I heard music, good old rock and roll accompanied by lots of laughter. As I rounded the point of land, a big canoe came into view, a 19-foot Grumman aluminum.
There were two anglers comfortably trolling for brook trout. They each had a rod in one hand and a beer in the other. The older gent asked me, "How they biting son?"
I hated to tell them, but my full stringer gave me up. So I lifted it for their inspection.
As they closed in, I saw the boombox that I had heard. When I saw their stringer, I was embarassed. Their shorts were longer than my keepers and I tried to hide my guide's badge.
To compound matters, I asked incredulously, "How'd you ever haul that canoe over from Putt's Pond. The trail's far too narrow for a wheelie?"
They both laughed long and hard. Then, after another sip of beer, the older fellow replied, "Putts Pond? Hell, what's that, at least four miles. We drove here."
Pointing to the nearby hillside, he continued, "Our truck's parked right up there."
Then he asked, "How in hell did you get here?"
Sheepishly, I told him I had hiked in from the campground.
With a confused look, he replied, "Why in hell would you do that son? Did ya need the exercise or somethin'?"
The small raft didn't have room to hide my embarassment, but a few beers shared around a hot fire sure helped to wash it away.
The road they had used to access the pond was well known to most locals. Although they violated restrictions against the use of motorized vehicles in the wilderness, it was common and rarely prosecuted at the time. DEC frowned, but with a wink and a nod.
I was wet, cold and slightly wobbled after a few beers, so I decided to pack it up. The guys continued to fish, but as I was about to head down the trail one of them asked, "Hey son, would like you a ride back?"
"I thought you'd never ask," I replied, and threw another log on the fire. There's no harm in asking.