Fishing is great exercise, especially when portaging back to the pond. So grab your rod and a canoe, and get out just for the health of it.
Almost every angler has suffered at least one embarrassing incident while pursuing fish. Often, these incidents tend to revolve around standard themes, most commonly centered on the big one that got away, a leaky boat, a weak line or other common mistakes.
I must admit, over the course of my career as a guide, I’ve had my fair share of adventure, and misadventure. However, I never expected to experience such a moment while in a small, rural grocery store.
Lake Clear General Store, which is located hardly a stone’s throw from the Adirondack Regional Airport, has been a regular stop on my angling outings for many years.
I often stop by to pick up lunch, get a pack of worms or purchase some spare tackle. Sometimes, I’d stick around to chat with Phil, the former proprietor, and over the years, we became good friends. We often engaged in friendly give and take banter, about his “sky high prices” or my lack of purchasing anything other than “worms and a license.”
The General Store has always been the most convenient location to purchase fishing licenses for my regular guests, who often fly in to stay nearby at a small, exclusive resort.
Throughout the late 1980’s and into the mid-1990’s, I hosted an annual fishing excursion for a group of motion picture executives from California. The group would always arrive via a corporate jet, and their transition from the streets of Los Angeles, to the forested ‘carries’ of the Adirondacks was abrupt, and routine.
It always followed the same pattern. I’d meet the plane on the runway, and after a quick round of banter and numerous wagers on who would catch the largest fish, we’d load up, and head off to Lake Clear General for essential supplies.
At the store, everyone bought a fishing license, as well as other crucial camp necessities such as bug repellent, cheap cigars and plenty of beer. Saranac Pale Ale proved to be the most popular beverage, and the heaviest, since it is only available in bottles.
With their licenses completed, the beer coolers full and an assortment of foul smelling cigars intact, we would set off to a region renowned for its remote ponds where flies, lies and lures soon became the most important matters of the day.
Invariably, there would be at least one member of the crew who would snore too loud, fart too often or fail to maintain the proper camp courtesies. And, to a man, every one of them would lie about the size of their catch. Even photographic evidence would be doctored!
Over the course of many years, the friendly competition grew quite competitive, and an annual trophy was established. The trophy wasn’t rewarded based on the size or weight of the fish, but rather on the best, or most unusual, catch. It became obvious that even the best of their screenwriters couldn’t exceed the storytelling skills of these accomplished liars. Their annual visits were always one of the highlights of my season.
The contest would always continue and the competition became especially fierce, as we exited the woods for the trip back to civilization.
As always, before returning to the airport, they would insist on stopping by the small general store to restock their supplies of Saranac beer. They claimed it was a necessity for the long, flight home, and they would often buy the place dry. They reveled in sharing tales of their adventures with Phil.
They always wanted me to participate in the contest, as we returned from camp over the route of the Seven Carries. On the trip out, we all fished hard, using a combination of flies, lies, and lures. It proved to be a truly incredible day, and it was difficult to keep fish off the lines.
Within the first hour, everyone had taken at least two nice fish, except for me. I simply could not put a fish in the boat. I lost lures to snags, and I had my line snapped by both fish and the bottom, but I never gave up the fight.
I kept casting, and jigging and trolling. I used lures, and spoons and worms, all to no avail. I scoured my fly boxes for some magic that would finally put a fish on my line, but it was no use. The top rod took almost a dozen, and everyone else had at least five. I had zero.
When we returned to the store, Phil was there to greet us with his usual line, asking: “How’s the fishin’ boys?”
I explained they had done quite well, and Lady Luck had blessed everyone but me. In a moment of self-depreciating humor, I joked that my new nickname was likely to become “Fishless Joe” in a knockoff of the infamous Shoeless Joe Jackson, of the old Chicago Black Sox.
We all had a good laugh, and soon they were on the way to LA, in a jet full of cold Saranac Pale Ale, fresh brook trout and plenty of good memories.
The next day, I returned to Lake Clear General with a young couple in tow. They were staying at a local resort and had engaged me to teach them to fly fish. I soon learned it was their first fishing experience, ever. I knew I would have my hands full.
As was the custom, I stopped by the store to pick up fishing licenses, and as we walked through the door, Phil greeted me from behind the counter with a wide, mischievous grin. I knew I was in trouble.
“Why helllooo, Fishlessssss Jooooe!,” Phil announced, in a long, slow drawl.
And then he continued: “I see you’ve got a couple of more suckers out today!”
I could feel my face flushing through the various shades of red, as Phil continued: “Why would you ever ask them to purchase a fishing license, when we all know you haven’t caught a fish in years!”
Instantly, I could see the tepidity in their eyes, and Phil continued to laugh out loud. I wanted to slink under the counter and make a hasty exit, but there was simply no place to retreat.
Fortunately, after a short pause, Phil finally confessed with a hearty laugh, and we all managed to enjoy the joke. Soon, we were on our way and fortunately, my guests managed to catch plenty of fish. I also took a nice fish to put an end to both a trout drought, and the “Fishless Joe” moniker.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.