Discovering the La Chute River and History By Mark Usyk
The schedule on the shop wall said “Microwave dish install. NYSP. Ticonderoga”. I turned and asked the question. “Who’s been up there? Where do we stay and is there water close to the hotel?” Jerry piped up… “There’s no place close to fish.” It was in the Adirondacks. You couldn’t make me believe that if you hypnotized me. My fly rod tubes were stashed in the back seat with our climbing gear and away we went, headed north, to hang off towers overlooking whatever great views awaited us, as comfortable on our perches as the birds in the trees.
Hours later as I climbed around on a small little communications sight built atop the historic Mount Defiance, I found myself taking more time looking down on Fort Ticonderoga and the mouth of the La Chute River flowing into Lake Champlain than actually working. I laughed to the other guys up here with me. “Yea, there’s nowhere to fish.” We all got a good laugh as the hotel was 5 minutes away. I love history, good history even more.
There were two 12 pound cannons up here pointing at Fort Ticonderoga far below, and I couldn’t help but think about how people just can’t seem to learn from history today, and it’s always been like that, this very mountain being the proof that history repeats, yet we don’t learn from it. The fort was built by the French and in 1758 the British, with the help of the Mohawk Indians used the slopes of this mountain as a vantage point to attack French troops and take the fort. Then as the American Revolution was fought, the fort became a patriot strong hold, important as it controlled passage on Champlain. But they never thought the British could get cannons up to the summit and so they didn’t protect it, even though the fort had already fallen once before because of the vantage points given by it. And in 1776, a British general proclaimed that where goats could go, so could men. And where men could go, cannons could be pulled behind them. The patriots were forced to abandon the valuable battlement as 12lb cannon balls rained down from above. And then once more, in 1777, the patriots ascended Mount Defiance in silence, took the British troops up top by surprise, and captured the cannons and the mountain top. They left one cannon in place and attacked the fort using the British’s own artillery, and hauled the second one down the mountain where they obtained the surrender of a British saw mill, and ended up taking 300 British prisoners and rescuing 118 Patriot prisoners. What does any of this have to do with fly fishing? Well, nothing. But it’s great history.
Back at the hotel that afternoon it seemed I was the only one that wanted to go find a fishing hole that day. So I did. The La Chute River was a mere 2 minutes from the hotel. A gorgeous crystal clear with a blue hue to it, it flowed through the small town of Ticonderoga spilling over a small dam, around boulders creating pocket water, cascading down naturally made steps and small falls, before rumbling over the violent forty something foot tall falls that was the sight of the British saw mill taken by the Patriots so long ago, now the sight of a hydroelectric station. At the bottom of these falls the water flowed to a calm, deep blue as it made its way under a covered bridge and downstream eventually mixing with the water of Lake Champlain by the fort. I couldn’t help but think at the bottom of these falls was where I needed to cast my line. But the current blasting from the bottom of the falls chaos proved to be almost too much, I needed more weight to get my Wollybugger down deep and I didn’t have it. After a local stopped to watch me, a conversation lead to the history of the river, the paper mill that had stood in this park when he was a young child, and how most of the Trout that were caught, which were not many by his telling, were in the stretch of river above the falls. I took a quick exploration walk to survey the river above, found a Trout that was willing to dart out from under the churning white water below a small falls for my trickery, and then returned to the hotel about dark. I told Mike in the hotel room “You’re going fishing with me tomorrow. The water is awesome. The waterfalls are awesome. I caught a Trout. You’re going with me tomorrow.”
For the next two weeks we worked in the area. Mike and I fished it the next day. Brown Trout and 10” and smaller Smallmouth Bass were found in pockets, holes, and pools along the short stretch in town stuck between a Man made dam upstream and the huge falls downstream, and the scenery was like something out of a magazine. The following week another climbing crew was working in the general area, and this being the only hotel around, they stayed there too, and Matt joined Mike and I fishing the La Chute. While they fished with spinning rods I happily casted my 6’6” 3wt Beaver Meadow fly rod. It was absolutely perfect for such a place. The water was pretty darn cold, but I wet waded and dealt with it.
I had waded to the far side of a great pool in a bend of the river and Matt had just taken a picture of me holding a Trout with his phone. As I released the fish Matt slid the phone back into his shirt pocket and then bent over for something. The phone did the ‘ol escape act and made the sick sound of technology and nature clashing in ways never meant. I remember seeing Matt’s eye’s bug out of his head, and he excitedly hovered his face to the water the way a cat would over the opening of a fish bowl full of gold fish, and then without a second thought, he thrust his face and arms into the cold water and re-emerged with the phone. “I got it!” He looked it over quickly and intently. “It’s good, it still works!” Then two seconds later as Mother Nature finally made it to the circuits and diodes and resistors and all the man-made stuff that was never meant for nature his grin turned to a frown. “Awwww, nope. It’s gone.” “Way to go Matt, you lost the only picture of my fish!” Ahhh, what good are friends if they won’t bust your chops in bad times.
We fished the spot again the next day and while doing a balancing act on a downed tree limb bouncing in the current I looked down into the clear water where two logs lay on the river bottom between me and the bank under the shade of the trees. The logs rested on the bottom, parallel to each other creating a foot wide wooden under water channel of sorts and that’s where I saw it. We were working our way downstream after going as far up stream as we could and Mike and Matt were behind me fishing the small step falls I had found the first Trout in the week before. Looking down I spotted a huge Brown, it had to be around twenty inches or so. I froze. The water was so clear, I was right above it. It had to know I was there, I couldn’t be that lucky. Without moving my body, slowly I let out a little line, and moving the rod tip ever so slightly over the target I dropped the olive Wollybugger down between the two logs about six feet in front of the fish. It cruised right down the channel and stopped about eight inches from the bugger and studied it for a moment. I gave it a twitch, it closed the inches wide gap. I held my breath as my heart tried to beat itself out of my chest. Then it lifted off the bottom and glided over the fly and out into the river. I knew it was too good to be true.
I fished that stretch once more a month later. As short of a stretch as it was, it was a good stretch. Cool, crystal clear water and beautiful surroundings, and to think, those same waters are a part of our rich history as a country. Long before any of us cast a fly on the La Chute River, Native Americans drank from it and caught dinner in fish traps and with spears. Then the French undoubtedly lowered their faces to the same flows for a drink, and then you can picture Red Coats breaking up their formations in the hot summer, swatting at relentless Adirondack Black Flies and seeking the cool refreshing crystal clear water of the river for relief. And finally the Revolutionaries, the Patriots. They two felt the same comfort of such beautiful waters. Yes, history surely does repeat itself. Of this I am sure.