While I was pulling into the Mountain Brook Lodge in Wilmington, I couldn’t help noticing all the license plates from various states. It is way too early for all the family tourists to be coming so they must be fly fishing folks I thought. The Two Fly Challenge was starting Friday, May 16 and the rod and reel, fly flicking guys where coming to the West Branch of the Ausable for a fishing rendezvous!
Normally I wouldn’t be getting a room to go fishing as I live only an hour away, but with the festivities going into the night, I didn’t want the hassle of driving back and forth from fishing and going to the nightly events and banquet. Besides my brother just celebrated his 60th, May 12th, so I got him registered for the Two Fly for his birthday. He is new to fly fishing and it’s time to break him in, West Branch Ausable River Adirondack New York style of course, isn’t that what brothers are for!
During the morning registration, everyone who had fished any other streams was required to dip their waders and boots into a solution that decontaminated the waders before fishing the Ausable. This would disinfect the waders from invasive species, especially didymo , which is also known as rock snot. In HAZMAT terminology it’s called DECON!
The Two Fly, is a fishing challenge where only two flies of your choice are used each day for the two day contest. If you lose your flies, that day is over as far as the contest is concerned. You can still fish, but it doesn’t count. Each participant is given a score card, and buddy up with a partner. They are on the honor system when they go fishing on the river. At the end of each day the fly fishing aficionados would turn in their cards with the type of fish caught and its length. The challenge ends the second day, and the total lengths for each entry are tallied.
Our first day out, Friday, was in fair weather, overcast with a storm threatening. We fished below the ski slope in some large boulder pocket water, where the rock is as slick as the proverbial manure. Cleats or felt soles are highly recommended in this water during early spring fishing. A wading stick is also recommended, fly rods don’t function as support staffs when you’re going down. Losing two flies is one thing, snapping a “boo” wood rod, and mashing face on granite would not be cool! I did get one nice Brown that day, out of a seam, so I was happy, the team didn’t get skunked!
As many as 75 guys had registered for the challenge and we met many of them. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Ontario Canada were all represented by some of the best folks one could ever meet. All corners of New York were covered as far as participants. Newburgh, Potsdam, and even some guys from Cheektowaga, a town in western New York where we grew up, home of some slammer polish kielbasa sausage!
That evening there was a fly tying demonstration at the ski center, while auction and raffle items were shown. During the program, two guys, Seth Warden and Doug Moody played acoustic guitar and violin. They did some serious Tom Petty.
Donations were given by local fishing shops. The Two Fly Fishing Shop owned by Tom Conway and the HARDY Grey Company were the primary sponsors of the program.
Supporters included the Hungry Trout, the Fly Shack, and numerous other businesses such as the Mountain Brook Lodge. Local artists did paintings, and one fellow donated a 4 weight homemade bamboo rod. All sorts of fly fishing equipment such as rods, reels and all the other jingle and jangle equipment that hangs from a vest was on hand. Local support for the event runs strong in Wilmington, I even saw Randy Preston, Wilmington’s supervisor on hand for the event. I noticed him eyeballing some of the fishing equipment; I think it was the sinkers.
That night it rained, and I mean it rained. The reports I got were that the cubic feet per second of river flow went from 1600 to over 12,500, with a river rise of over 5 feet. We are talking, serious killer kayak conditions with white caps. Nymph fishing in that would be like standing along the track fence during the Daytona 500.
Saturday, we went up stream in what Fran Betters called the sweet water sections. Even there though, with a five foot rise, the bank was now along the road or in the woods. We gave it a try, but we knew we didn’t have a real chance anyway. But we came to fish and that’s what we did!
While fishing, I am always observing the river and what is happening, it’s the stream walker in me. It’s amazing what the wetlands along the upper Ausable do. They hold all the excess water and let the river rise and lower the way it’s supposed too. The floodplain and wetlands along the river absorb the impact of the rising water and slowly release nutrients back into the waters. Willow, alders and red osier dogwoods line the banks and bend with the flows, the way things should be. I was bending with the flow and after some fruitless efforts to hook a brookie, brownie or bow, we headed back to town.
Needless to say, it was time to meet and greet all the other guys. The banquet was held at the Whiteface Ski lodge, CloudSpin Room. The winners were announced and awards given out to professional, adult and youth classes. Winners were as follows:
1st Place Jake Weaver
2nd Place Michael Hoffman
1st Place Bill Sullivan
2nd Place Jason Yanary
3rd Place Joe Morelli
1st Place Ron Both
2nd Place Don Clute
Fran Betters Award Jake Weaver (Biggest Fish) 21 inches
Money was also being raised for a memorial bronze statue of Fran Betters to be constructed along the Ausable in Wilmington, an enduring Adirondack tribute, to a fly fishing mentor.
During the dinner, the main speaker, Gary Hodgson from Lake Placid, spoke about building a birch bark canoe and pack baskets out of local White Birch trees. Auction items where won and given out along with some complementary gifts promoting the event. Every one of us had a great time.
The town of Wilmington and all the great people who supported this event are doing a great thing to promote our area. Fly fishing of course, was the hot topic of conversation, along with who went where and fished what stream in Alaska, Colorado or Montana. There were some fish tales being told, and some where even believable!
Fly fishing was the language of the night, but we all spoke the same words, we all agreed that New York’s West Branch of the Ausable is one special jewel. Everyone agreed we would all be back next year, come hell or high water once again! Life is not just about the fish, it’s about living!
Special thanks to Tom Conway and the HARDY Grey Rod Company for their donations and especially to Michelle Burns of the Whiteface Region Business and Tourism Center. Without these folks it would not happen!
Rich Redman is a retired District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and an avid outdoorsman. His column will appear regularly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.