Updated: Jul 10, 2020
In this story, I catch no fish. Let’s just get that out of the way.
It’s not like I’m giving away the ending or anything. Actually, sitting in front on my laptop with a Genny Cream Ale tall boy trying to find my way into this story, hands still swollen from freezing in the river this morning, I’m realizing that there’s really nothing to give away. I know that good stories are rarely easy to write. They don’t always play fair.
Sometimes I have to write myself into a point, if there is one at all. Knuckle up and fight for pennies, hoping they add up to a buck when the dust settles. But I also know, while 9 out of 10 experiences may be unremarkable, there’s always something there to write about. That’s what storytelling is about…making something out of that something.
So, back to the story.
The drive up to Lake Placid took almost an hour and a half longer than I anticipated. It might have been the trooper following me for almost 15 miles after I cruised through Harrisville a bit to speedily. It might have been the long, winding stretches of Route 3 double yellow-lined Adirondack scenery, and me three cars behind a sub-compact driving sub speed limit. No matter. By the time I pulled into the Lake Placid Price Chopper parking lot at 6 p.m. to pick up some groceries, I had one hour before Chris Williamson and the guys from the Tri-Lakes chapter of TU would be rolling film for the Fly Fishing Film Tour. With three sticks of beef jerky, three Cream Ale tall boys, one Gatorade and some Chips-Ahoy cookies, I headed for the Woodlake Motor Lodge to check in before the show.
The film tour, dubbed F3T, was my primary reason for making the trek north. But it doubled nicely as an excuse to explore some of the Ausable River’s West Branch the following morning. One detail that failed to cross my mind during pre-trip planning however, was that the land of The Miracle on Ice would still be as cold as it was. I finished a beer and a stick of jerky in the rustic comfort of my room, pushed the thoughts of a frigid morning in my waders to the back of my mind, turned up the thermostat and left to go watch some fish porn.
I knew that I’d be running into Alex Cerveniak (of 40 Rivers to Freedom fame) and his son at the event. We’d corresponded via chats and email a handful of times, but had never met “live.” I’ve enjoyed his blog for a while, so it was good to be able to actually shake hands with the guy–a greeting sadly lost in our culture of electronic communication. After donating my fair share of money to the TU guys in exchange for a pocket-full of raffle tickets, we settled into our seats to watch some ridiculously fortunate (and in a couple cases, slightly nuts) guys head to ridiculously prime locales and catch ridiculously large fish. And lots of them.
When the lights came up at the end of an evening of permit, redfish, bones, sailfish, snook, smallmouth bass, musky and mako sharks, three films stuck with me: MOTIV Fishing’s ambitious 8,000 mile South American roadtrip documentary, GEOFISH The Stand By Me-esque NZ back-country travels of The Waters of Greenstone from Gambit Stone And the bloody-knuckle, salt-of-the-earth truth of Musky Country – Zero 2 Hero from Third Year Fly Fisher. Don’t get me wrong, all of the films on tour were well produced, with stunning footage, action and product placement. But these three in particular told a story, and told it well. The pisser: tomorrow morning was still going to be cold.
At 6 a.m. the alarm went off. I reset it for 6:30. I figured I’d give the morning another half hour to warm up a little. About the time I was dressed, the miniature coffee pot finished brewing. Next to the miniature coffee pot were two neatly wrapped, plastic water cups. Not Styrofoam. Not even heavy paper cups with the little fold-out handles. Plastic.
Undaunted, I decided I’d stop and get some gas station coffee on the way out to the river.
The village was asleep in the quiet gray of dawn. Mountains to the southeast were just putting on their yellow-orange. The temperature gauge on my rear-view mirror reported 9-degrees. About five miles out Route 86 I realized I still had no coffee. I should’ve taken it as a sign, but I’m not one to concede victory before I’ve suffered good and plenty, or my gear fails. And even then I still may not get the hint.
My time on the water lasted barely an hour. I waded step after deliberate step out to mid river, the bottom draped with 6″ – 8″ of slush. My wooly bugger froze before I finished my second false cast, whistling through the air and landing like a reasonably sized stone in the slack water I was after. By my second cast the diameter of my fly line had increased to roughly that of a boat rope. I waded back to the bank, spent ten minutes de-icing my rod and line, and another ten trying to get some sort of feeling back in my fingers. As my dad used to say when he’d put me in one of his Chinese toe holds during a living room wrestling match – if you’re done, say uncle. Uncle.
Needless to say, I discovered that the Downtown Diner in Lake Placid serves a mean two eggs over easy, patty sausage, homefries, white toast and pancakes on the side with coffee and OJ for less than ten bucks. Add some good fish films, a couple new friends and jerky with Genny Cream Ale…I’d say there’s a little something there after all.