Adirondack Sportswoman: The Bowfin
By Melanie Houck
Friday, September 7, 2012
Welcome to the Amazon! I think this every time I come to this other-worldly place. Dead trees reach far out into the water along the narrow channel, and lush trees tower on both sides. Strange birds flitter about, screeching in protest at our invasion. The water is slow moving and very green, hiding a plethora of strange, exotic creatures that occasionally show themselves in the murky depths. We are not in the deep jungles of another country, but in our rowboat, meandering along the bizarre and exotic LaChute River. If you don’t know it, it’s a short river that flows out of the northern end of Lake George, and into the southern end of Lake Champlain. With connections to the St. Lawrence and ultimately the ocean, all kinds of unusual fish swim up this river and stop at the LaChute Falls in Ticonderoga.
Today, three of us are in our small motorboat. My husband Roger was dismayed at first at just how low the water was. With intentions of fishing the backwaters, he worried they’d be too low and weedy to be fishable. I poo-poo his negativity, reminding him that the ‘monster’ we are going after could be just about anywhere.
With tackle boxes and heavy rods, we head away from the falls and the launching site. Rog, anxious to get to the backwaters up the river, guns the engine but I tell him to take it slow because there are some really neat things to see along the way.
“Holy moly, look at that monster! It’s over there under that log!” I shout and Rog stops the trolling motor.
“Oh my gosh, get your crayfish out there!” Rog whispers, and our buddy Samuel and I then stumble and bumble frantically, trying to get our bait towards it. This is the second largest bass I have ever seen, most likely in the 8-9 pound range. The fish is too smart for us, and it sinks back into the murky depths, ignoring my huge, wiggly, yummy crayfish.
We move on and within minutes are plopping all kinds of bait in front of another bass, this one tiny in comparison at ‘only’ five pounds or so. It doesn’t even notice us and I try to get some pictures as it rudely snubs our bait. Ouch, what an insult.
The Roger spies a strange, beautiful little bird hopping about on limbs of a downed tree. He coasts over for a look; I think it’s a green heron. We laugh as it hops about, stretching its neck inquisitively and arching the feathers on the backside of its head.
These little herons are everywhere. In fact, great blues and bitterns (all part of the heron family) are all over, squawking and flying off. I see kingfishers, hear an osprey calling, and I know where an eagle nest will soon come into view. The bird ‘nerd’ in me is going nuts in this birder’s paradise, and I almost forget that we are here to fish.
We come within sight of the tall weeds and narrow opening leading to the backwaters and are momentarily distracted by a 4-foot carp that shows itself briefly. “No way can we get in there,” Rog says. He’s right, all we can see is muck, choking lily pads and pickerel weeds.
“Let’s head to the mouth of the river and see what’s along the shore,” I suggest. I warily scan the horizon. Our little pocket of blue sky is now completely surrounded by dark menacing clouds and far off thunder. We are running out of time, so Rog revs up the motor and we head to where river meets lake. Weeds tower over our heads on either side of the channel and thousands of sunfish scatter below us as the boat moves along.
An opening appears and we sneak through a channel that meanders through thick weeds. Rog slows down and I shriek, “I see one! It’s going right under the boat!” Our intended target, a huge, dark, fat, slithering bowfin is finally within sight. We help Samuel get his bait into the water. He’s more patient than I am, calmly trying to keep from getting tangled in all the thick weeds in the shallow water. We can’t see the bowfin anymore, but we know he’s near. These ugly, scary fish have no fear, they don’t mind the boat, and even if we do spook one, it will quickly come back. They have wide, round heads with big eyes to the side, a long dorsal fin on top, and can get up to over three feet long, weighing over 20 pounds. They are some of the most aggressive, voracious feeders and give one heck of a fight. I get chills when they appear, quietly slithering out of nowhere.
Five minutes later, one appears and slowly takes Samuel’s bait.
“Hold on Samuel, wait for him to totally take it and swallow it, before setting the hook,” Rog cautions him. This is always the hardest part, waiting, knowing the fight of your life is about to happen if you time it just right.
“Now!” I say, and Samuel pulls his rod up a bit, but the bowfin is already on. He horses the fish for a while as I take pictures. Rog gets the net ready and a few minutes later Samuel’s first bowfin is angrily thrashing in it.
He’s all smiles as we try to help him hold on to the fish long enough for a photo. These fish are nasty and will even bite with their sharp teeth if provoked. Seconds after I snap a few, it goes crazy, so Samuel releases it back into the water. We know there are more out there, but by now lighting is visible and the storm is most definitely coming our way, so we have to cut our fishing trip short. But we are happy. Our mission is accomplished!
As we head back at full speed, I can’t help but think of the show ‘River Monsters’ from the History Channel. I am semi-convinced there are creatures in here we can’t even imagine and I’m not sure I want to. And yet, I keep coming back for more. Someday I hope to see my first long-nosed gar, which thrives in Lake Champlain. If you’re looking for a really neat, other-worldly adventure, take your boat on the LaChute!
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