A guide’s eye view: Two guides headed into camp, with their boats full of gear.
The annual sugaring season has finally arrived, and soon, frost heave season will be upon us.
These are just a few of the annual novelties of the North Country experience which are typically followed in short order by the Mud Season, Spring Flood Season, Spring Break, Black Fly Season, Birding Season, Ice Out, Trout Season, Pothole Season, and eventually the Summer Season, which always seem to be the shortest of all Adirondack seasonal anomalies.
In typical, contrary Adirondack style, the annual Trout Season begins on April 1, while most streams and rivers are either socked in with ice and snow, or running at flood state following an early thaw.
Fittingly, April Fools is a term the locals use to describe the usual over-eager and uninitiated anglers who travel to the region from downstate locales with hopes of catching an Adirondack trout on opening day.
Generally, a majority of local lakes and ponds retain their winter’s ice cover until the beginning of May, and most streams remain too high and to gold to bother with until about the same time.
Many of the avid Adirondack trout anglers spend the early season gathering together the gear, scouring the maps and readying their equipment and gathering together all of the usual flies, lies and lures that will be necessary for the first trip of the season.
My traditional run-up to the upcoming seasons generally begins in late March, with a visit to the annual NYS Outdoor Guides Association Annual Rendezvous.
The event brings together licensed guides from all across the state, to talk of hunting turkey, and big bucks, or whitewater rafting and wood ducks.
It is a time to share the tales and techniques of wilderness adventures in the camaraderie of a group of like minded men, and women.
It’s a place to discover the best fishing hole or deer run, and to learn how to hunt or fish it or hunt it once you’re there.
But most of all, the annual Rendezvous provides the assembled guides an opportunity to catch up on new standards, and to share and discuss professional concerns with DEC personnel.
The Rendezvous also provides aspiring guides with opportunities for professional training, and to obtain the required competencies in First Aid, Water Safety that are required for the getting a license.
On traditional Adirondack adventures, the guides were responsible for providing and preparing the food, shelter, transportation and for establishing the camp. In addition to ensuring the safety of the party, guides also made the necessary preparations and gathered all of the supplies necessary for an outing that could last from a week or more in the woods.
Guides would also supply the boats, tents, packs and other gear necessary for traveling, fishing, hunting and camping.
They did everything to ensure the trip was successful, and served in a wide capacity of roles ranging from cook and bottle washer to waiter and storytellers.
In a vocational sense, guides also serve as educators and mentors, counselors and woods-wise instructors. We’ve also been known to fill in as a disciplinarian and coach, cheerleader and judge, part-time clergy and stepfathers
Most of the guides I know, remain a rather independent lot, and they’re usually just as skilled in building character, as they are in judging it.
As a group, they’ve been known to tell of few tall tales, but generally their stories are never exaggerated too far beyond what an average guest can be expected to believe.
It has been said a good guide was someone who can take a neophyte, city dweller into the woods, shoot a deer for him, dress it and drag it out; and be ready to knock down the first man who dares to claim his client didn’t shoot it.
Although very few of today’s guides would be willing to admit to such shenanigans, I will admit to adding more than a few inches to the size of a guest’s trout while recounting a tale of their fishing expertise.
Times have changed dramatically from the old days of guiding, when consumptive sports were the rule and the adventures consisted primarily of fishing and hunting exploits. Back then, camp chores were attended to almost exclusively by the guides, “who were available for hire at all the local taverns.”
The guides set out the tents or ‘shanties’, kindled the fires they later cooked over, and remained rather aloof or apart from the conversations of their cultured city ‘sports’.
In the current era, guides still perform the same chores, however today’s ‘sports’ are often more eager to join in and learn how to do it themselves.
Primarily, the qualifications still require a strong back and a weak mind, but we still sell memories, and strive to provide a safe and rewarding experience.
Guide must also be well versed in Forest Preserve Rules and Regulations, trip planning and preparation, which concerns both the weather and the season, as well as the clients’ preferences, habits and expectations.
Guides must also be physically able to perform a variety of tasks, while confronting any number of potential threats and problems ranging from black flies to black bears, homesick kids to and an assortment of other common calamities, allergies and potential tragedies as severe as a lost cell phone.
Despite the worst of rain, terrain, snow and heavy blow, a guide must always report to work, even when the others remain snug in their bags. A guide’s job is to keep everyone in camp, safe, comfortable and happy, regardless of all the external circumstances to the contrary.
Often, today’s “sports” want to learn how to kindle a fire, or to cast a fly; and they are even eager to portage a boat over the carries.
Conversely, I’m often eager to allow them to haul a boat, even if it does seem to be bending the expected qualifications of a guide “possessing both a strong back and a weak mind.”
In 1869, William H. H. Murray, writing under the pen-name of ‘Nessmuk’ published “Adventures in the Wilderness or Camp-Life in the Adirondacks.” It was the first guide book for tourists and it described various sections of the northern wilderness. It also provided a list of lodgings and advice on guides.
In a section on selecting a guide, Murray, a Boston minister explained: “This is the most important of all considerations for one about to visit the wilderness. An ignorant, lazy, low-bred guide is a nuisance in camp and useless everywhere else. A skillful, active, well-mannered guide, on the other hand, is a joy and consolation, a source of constant pleasure to the whole party.”
Murray’s assessment remains as true today as it did in 1869, and as it likely will in 2169.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.