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Hungry Bay’s Howl

On the northern shores of Middle Saranac Lake

Between Weller and Eden

Rests a remote rock rimmed boulder bay

Biding time’s weathered seasons

Beyond lonely wail of coyote and loon

Made legend by Reben

Beware Hungry Bay’s windswept whitecap howl

Stalking doomed souls it feasts on


     It all started innocently enough.  The crisp morning air was dead still, mist covered waters like glass, as we put our canoe in at South Creek.  RJ and I set out to continue a family tradition, our annual father/son duck hunt.

     RJ manned the bow, armed with his Remington V3 autoloader. I rode vintage Remington Mag pump shotgun backup from the stern. Between us was gear sufficient to meet nature’s challenge and whim. We’d packed enough provisions to sustain us through events unexpected, to weather emergencies. We’d both been here before. We knew what to expect. Together we’d weathered the lake’s worst fall storms.

     We quietly worked our way up through South Creek through the mist before dawn. There were no ducks seeking refuge there, so once we hit the lake’s still mirrored glass waters, we turned left to slowly work our way up along the lake’s western shoreline.

     By the time we’d worked our way up past the inlet flowing down past Bartlett Carry, we’d managed to bag a nice pair of mergansers.  Some folks won’t eat them, but properly field dressed and prepared, we’ve always found them quite tasty.

     After getting jumped and surprised ourselves by a big flock of birds hidden along one rocky shore, we jumped one more merganser coming around the back side of a small island constituting the last point of state land on the lake’s western side.

     So, with three ducks in our bag and the mist covered lake still like glass, we decided to make our way up past the northwest shore’s private camps and across Hungry Bay to try our luck at spooking up some black ducks along Weller Pond’s myriad swamps.

     There were a few other boats and canoes on the water that morning. We quietly gave them wide berth. Duck hunters don’t often reap much benefit from company.

      We spooked up a couple of flocks of long-distance black ducks in Weller, but none were in range.  Then, as we made our way along the northeastern shoreline beyond Tick and Tot islands, RJ spotted another merganser as he scanned the shoreline with binos.

     We managed to maneuver our canoe into range for RJ to get a clean shot. Once the duck was successfully retrieved and in the canoe, we had four in our bag. The water was still calm, we decided to meander our way up through the mucky lily pad bogs into Little Weller Pond.

     Little Weller is hard to hunt. Ducks are always grouped up along the far side. They spot us and spook the minute our canoe clears the outlet’s mouth. That never seems to stop us from trying.  We had no better luck this year. We sat and watched once again as several flocks gave us a long-distance wave and a “quack” as they went zooming safely overhead by us.

      So, having exhausted our morning’s Weller Pond opportunities, we headed back down towards Middle Saranac Lake.  It was a little after 10am. We planned to stop at Martha Reben for a quick snack and to stretch our legs, before hunting our way down the lake towards Bull Bush Bay’s lean-to.

     RJ had been checking the weather on his phone.  It was sunny, with no forecasted rain. The morning’s mist was nearly gone from the lake.  The sun was quite warm and bright. There were, however, some winds in the day’s forecast. True to form, the lake’s mirrorlike glass was now broken.

     I remarked to RJ as we cleared Weller, “I wouldn’t classify this as “wind”. I’d term this more a “slight breeze”.  He agreed. We kept paddling.  By the time we crossed and disembarked at the updated version of Martha Reben’s famed lean-to, mirrored broken glass had become steady chop. RJ retorted “Dad, now I think your “slight breeze” can safely be called “wind”.   I looked out across the ripples sweeping in across Hungry Bay from the west and agreed.

     We were only stopped for ten minutes. RJ tried to call my brother Ray to relay our morning’s success, tell him our traditional duck dinner was on, and that he was a “go” to invite guests.  However, as is generally the case, there was no cell service from Reben. That call would have to wait. We looked out across Hungry Bay and at that moment realized, so would our Bull Rush Bay plans for the day.  

     It was like someone had suddenly flipped a switch. Winds gusted out of the south across Hungry Bay, a sea of whitecaps had arisen from nowhere. We looked at each other. We both knew. We’d been here before. The day’s plans were scrapped.   

     One of us, maybe both of us, said, “What the f?!? These aren’t 8-10 mile an hour winds, more like 20 and gusting!”

     We agreed. Bull Rush Bay plans were out. We just wanted to cross our canoe to the refuge of Middle Saranac Lake’s western shoreline before the winds got any worse.  We figured once we were there, we could skirt the shoreline, using it to protect us from the worst wind and waves. So that was our plan. RJ still manned the bow. I held the stern.  We pushed away from Martha Reben and prepared to head out.  

     It seemed like the wind doubled in speed the minute we left shore. There was no turning back. Whitecaps were crashing across the water, still out of the south across Hungry Bay. I yelled to RJ, “We can’t cross this! We’ll get broadside and flip!  We’ve got to work our way backwards to get across! Head back towards Weller!”   

     RJ jammed his paddle into the water. The winds just kept getting worse. There was no going back at that point. There was no room for error going forward, either.

     RJ paddled for all he was worth. I somehow managed to guide the canoe across the lake with the wind and waves cross side at an angle blowing across our back. Soon we were a few feet off Hungry Bay’s rocky north shoreline.

      We both knew there was no way we could simply beach at that point. That was not an option. We’d be thrown into the rocks and get capsized and hurt. It was all we could do to move forward and as close as we dared, hug the shoreline.

The wind was howling so bad that RJ couldn’t even lift his paddle from the water to switch sides. At one point he yelled out to someone, anyone, maybe to God; “OK! I get it! What is it you want from us?! We’ll never come back here! I promise!”

     It wasn’t what I wanted to do. In fact, it was what I most dreaded. I had no choice however, I turned the canoe broadside to the wind, facing bow westward, weaving as best as I could as I went, trying to keep from getting flipped in the waves, while at the same time keeping our canoe from getting thrown into the rocks on the shoreline. RJ kept paddling.

     When we sat in the trough between the bay’s whitewater swells, the water was above the canoe’s gunwales on both sides. The whitecaps were so fierce and high, they weren’t breaking into our canoe, they were breaking across the canoe, crashing right over us!

     About halfway up the bay’s shore we came around a jutting rock point, winds gusting and howling, despite the sun shining. I jammed my paddle deep into the water to turn us right to follow the shore, hoping for some relief. There was none to be had. It seemed that whatever way we turned, swirling winds shifted with us.

     I remember at one point looking up and out as we turned, RJ rode a wave up and crashed down. I could see the next wave in front of him, OVER his head! I thought for sure we were going over at that moment. We were going to get swamped. No matter which way we turned, our situation was dire. We were in grave peril. At that point both of us knew it. I just kept the canoe hugging that shoreline. RJ just kept paddling.   

     The only two things we had in our favor at that moment were that heavy aluminum Grumman canoe, and our experience working together as a team.  We both knew our job and had faith in each other.

     Somehow, we managed to get around to the west end of Hungry Bay, both exhausted.  We were yelling back and forth to each other. “We’ve got to somehow get around Stormy Point!” We agreed, if we could survive that far, there was a fighting chance we might make it.

     We finally reached Stormy Point. The winds were even worse. They had to have been gusting 30 miles an hour or more. We weren’t sure what was going on. There were no signs of storm skyward.

     We horsed our way up along the western shore’s private camps, having flashbacks to last year. During last year’s hunt we had endured slightly lesser winds, coupled with thunder, lightning, and torrential rain, and had taken temporary refuge at one of the camps to ride out the storm. That was not an option this time around. The raging gusts of wind and whitecap waves were simply too much. We’d have simply crashed on the rocks, like the boat that had come loose from its dockside mooring at one of the camps and was already banging hard up against the rocks.

     We thought we would finally at least have the wind in our face, as opposed to being broadside, which is perilous, when we reached Middle Saranac Lake’s western shoreline and began heading south.  No such luck. The winds shifted again! They were now blowing up the lake. As a result, we still found ourselves broadside. As we crossed past the island point where just hours before we’d jumped our third duck on morning mirror lake glass, we encountered another obstacle, swirling across the lake right in front of us. From out of nowhere suddenly appeared a gusting waterspout!  We had to cut hard back to the right to avoid it.

     Once past that, we had nothing left in our spent tanks. Thankfully, we were past the worst rocky shoreline, and were finally able to beach our canoe on the lake’s west end state land for some badly needed rest and refuge.  Once safely ashore, we found cell service.  RJ called my brother. I took my medicine. We both got a snack.

     The skies were still bright, not a single sign of rain or a storm. Just the wind, which at that point finally let up a bit. We’d planned on hunting all day. We were both completely exhausted. That plan got scrapped.  We both agreed we’d come far closer to capsizing than we’d ever experienced. We each thought we were going over several times. We took our ducks and went home. A father/son duck hunting adventure we’ll both never forget.

A warning though, both to ourselves, and to those who dare follow:

Beware Hungry Bay’s Howl!

Lest its appetite devour you.


Until Our Trails Cross Again: