When New York State's outdoors writers headed to Old Forge for their fall conference Oct. 2-5, early hunting seasons seemed the hot topic.
The Adirondack Mountains provide a nice setting for leaf watching while camping, fishing, hiking, hunting and other pursuits. As everyone knows who has ever spent a day at Old Forge, deer watching is a major -- and very simple -- outdoor experience.
Whitetails, including some nice-sized bucks, walk around town and the no-hunting surrounding area. It's a great place to take photos of deer "in the wilds," if you can angle a shot (or PhotoShop) without buildings and humans in the foreground and background.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alexander "Pete" Grannis accepted conference coordinator Leo Maloney's invitation and attended the gathering Thursday evening. He planned a fish outing with Maloney, but arrived too late for it.
Activities in Albany, mainly about money, delayed the commissioner's arrival. His evening discussion mainly focused on budgetary concerns. As he had announced at the New York State Conservation Council fall meeting weeks earlier, Grannis delivered the nasty news, which, simply said, comes down to a 10 percent cut everywhere.
Locally, parks users have already seen early closing on launch ramps and the possible closing of camping areas hunters use during fall seasons. But Grannis said that he is still looking at all DEC programs before making the needed cuts. "The recent Wall Street crisis has made the belt-tightening even harder," he said. Wall Street provides a major source of DEC funding.
Grannis, a strong supporter of the recently-passed legislation to grant big-game hunting privileges to 14- and 15-year olds, repeated his support for passing a law to legalize crossbow use for hunters with disabilities and for senior hunters.
He also has been keeping close watch on gas drilling concerns along the Pennsylvania-New York State border. Along with the increased cost of habitat-rich hunting properties in a weak economy, he is concerned about inequities and environmental issues involved in drilling procedures.
Cold fronts and occasional misty rains did not deter outings, but anglers fared a bit better than hunters during this conference. A new tract of land north of Old Forge just opened to hunting access, and a few hunters scouted for bear as well as deer presence. But it was the Adirondack waterways that entered more texts and photo submissions during this gathering.
Trout and salmon kept a tight lip while we went on a trolling trip around Fourth Lake on Friday morning, but Maloney put us onto a spectacular largemouth bass outing Saturday morning.
A slight east wind, gentle misting rain and a serious old-front drop in degrees did not deter Syracuse writers Dave Figura and J. Michael Kelly and I from joining with guide Jerry Roberts of Fort Noble Adirondack Adventures for a morning of canoeing on nearby Nick's Lake.
Just a short drive from downtown Old Forge, this paddle-only DEC-managed lake offers easy, close access to many campers and day trippers. What's more, it holds hoards of hefty largemouth bass in numbers most anglers will not see until making a run to the deep south somewhere.
Clearly, with all these folks around with easy fishing access, anglers must practice catch and release of most fish caught -- at least the bass that bite.
Kelly, recently retired outdoors columnist for the Syracuse Post-Standard, fished with guide Roberts and I took the helm (back seat) with Figura, Kelly's competent replacement at the Syracuse publication.
Both were high on Senko's, a worm-like bait designed by bass pro Gary Yamamoto a few years back. Several comparables have gone on the market and most work well.
Unlike most action lures that display wiggles, wobbles, wags, and whoops, this "worm", which is affixed in the center with a large, wide-gapped hook, works best when just cast out and allowed to gently settle to the bottom like a leech or other water worm.
"Some guys say the special colors also simulate small panfish like bluegills or perch," Figura said as we began seeking a sunken island Maloney X-ed as a hot spot on our map. It didn't take long before Figura hooked a half dozen nice big-mouths. He tossed a nice pumpkinseed "worm" into the back of the canoe and I got in on the fun with just a light panfish rod and 4-pound test line. Stunning.
It wasn't long before we hooked, caught and released some 60 fish. Maybe two hours. But even a panfish-sized spinner bait accounted for a few nice bass. Bragging rights and photo angles aside (we released every fish, including Figura's "big mama"), Nick's Lake is a far-north largemouth lair.
This and other near-shore and near-roadways encounters occur everywhere in the Adirondacks -- not just on those deep-woods, hearty woodsman outings. For a free listing of key sites, including maps and CDs, call (518) 891-6200 or go to adirondack.org.