A proud, young angler displays his mouse eating brook trout.
Over the course of the past week, I have stumbled across two unique new experiences that have threatened many of my long held wildwood beliefs.
The first occasion was an incident that occurred on a small, local river that still hosts a healthy population of wild, brook trout.
Over the years, I’ve paddled and fished these waters and taken a fair share of healthy brookies. Most of the fish are released, but on occasion, one or two manage to migrate onto a grate, suspended over the coals of a hardwood fire, where the meat bakes pink, and the tail curls carefully until done.
Such was the case on a recent fishing foray, when a young angler hooked into a handsome fourteen inch brookie which weighed about two pounds.
It was downright fat for a river fish, so we decided to keep it for the grill back at camp.
However, when we cleaned the fish, and inspected the contents of it’s stomach, we were both surpised to discover far more than the usual bugs, flies, beetles and minnows that can be expected.
There, right in the middle of it’s stomach, was a fully developed mouse, long tail, whiskers and all.
In all my years of angling in the Adirondacks, from lakes to ponds to streams and rivers, I’ve never come across such a sight.
Certainly, I’ve tossed rubber mice lures to a few largemouth bass, and I’ve even watched Northern pike take down a ducking or two. But I’ve never heard of brookies eating mice, although it is entirely feasible given the current over population of the long tailed rodents throughout the Adirondacks. In fact, I would propose the state consider stocking all of our waters with a lot more of those mouse-eating, brook trout, as I’m getting tired of setting traps every evening.
Proposed campfire ban
A recently released management plan for campers traveling in the recently acquired Essex Chain of Lakes Primitive Area will prohibit the use of open fires at established tent sites and any place within 500 feet of a body of water.
“Although actual fire sites are usually quite small, a more serious aspect involves firewood gathering, which by itself causes widespread and often severe impacts,” states the Essex Chain of Lakes Management Complex Unit Management Plan. “This activity greatly increases the area of disturbance around primitive tent sites and it is common that the disturbed area can be 10-20 times greater in size than the actual primitive tent site zone. Campfires consume wood which would otherwise decompose and replenish soil nutrients.”
According to the Unit Management Plan authors, “This is the most effective way to protect the ecologically sensitive areas directly adjacent to the lakes and ponds.”
While I understand the need for Fire Protection, and an occasional ‘closing of the woods’ during times of high fire danger, I do not believe the matter of campsite esthetics should be use an issue in a location as the Chain Lakes, where human disturbance is not likely to be as great as it has been in the High Peaks Wilderness, where a similar ban has been in place for several years now.
The argument just doesn’t hold water, as there is so much wood available in an around the Chain Lakes, and all along the access roads.
In addition, the draw of the High Peaks Wilderness has and will continue to be much greater than that of the Chain Lakes Primitive Area; which will compete with over a dozen similar canoe areas including the Five Ponds, the St. Regis, Lows Lake, Indian Lake and the 90 mile water highway through the park from Old Forge to Saranac Lake.
I do not believe it is possible to enjoy an authentic Adirondack wilderness camping experience when subjected to such absurd man- made rules. Give the campers more credit!
Certainly, there will always be an occasional camp-idiot, who cuts down a green leafed tree and tries to burn it. But the same knucklehead would do that in any area, Wilderness, Primitive or at a Pay by the Night State Campground.
Try though they may, the DEC simply cannot regulate such camp-idiots out of the Park. But it appears they may have made the first step at regulating out all of the responsible users.
A comfortable campfire has long been considered a crucial component of the American camping experience Fire is a magical element that cares for us in over a hundred ways. It is part of the tradition.
For tens of thousands of years, outdoor travelers have used fire for a variety of purposes ranging from cooking to clearing. Fire also provides warmth, security and a necessary source of light against the imposing darkness.
Since the times when men gathered around campfires to relate tales of the hunt to the uninitiated, the mystical magic of a flickering flame has provided more than just creature comfort to campers, travelers and wanderers alike.
Campfire stories don’t carry much weight when they are related to a group that’s huddled around a flashlight or battery operated lantern.
Such contrivances hold little sway against the imagined bears, monsters and boogie men of a camper’s dreams.
A camp fire provides psychological and physical comfort, and as campers become mesmerized by the flickering light; they often succumb to a drool-inducing, million mile stare that cannot be replicated by any thing man-made.
Fire is made with all natural ingredients and it makes us come alive with a flickering, sparking, snapping, cracklin, popping magic that can’t be duplicated.
The sight of a thousand sparks climbing into the dark night air is as common to campers as the bright stars above. To camp without a fire is to canoe without the water; it can be done but it is an exercise in futility.
In more modern times, camp stoves have replaced the wild flames as they are more convenient, and practical for purposes of cooking. But a camp stove is of no use when using a Dutch Oven, or a Reflector Oven. Toasting marshmallows over a gas range just doesn’t have the charm aofan open flame.
Gas lanterns may provide the necessary light in camp, as do a host of flashlights, candle lanterns and any number of other LED gizmos that can be strapped on, hung from or otherwise scattered about the camp.
Yet, there is no psychological glow, just a stark, blank white light. There is no mystery and no scent, nor sound. In fact, electric, and even gas lamps are the antithesis of everything we retreat to wild camps to escape from.
We go to rough it, maybe on the easy side for most, but the purpose of camping is to rekindle a more primitive spirit that still remains hidden deep within our souls.
We want to recapture that felling, if only for a spell, if only for the night. To deny that privilege is to deny the experience entirely. I go to enjoy a snapping, sparking, barking campfire and the sweet scent of birch bark mixing with the balsam scented air.
Small fires are much easier to control and manage. They are useful and not wasteful. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of all campers, who are often out of control, full of the waste they leave behind and typically of no use when they are in the woods. No method of regulation will overcome that attitude, Dude!
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.