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Poached Trout

A Young Adirondack Outlaw’s Recipe for Justice

Mid-seventies Saranac Lake was a magical place. It was a great time to be an Adirondack kid growing up. Kids were allowed to be kids. Cell phones and the internet had not yet been invented. Today’s crowded high peaks lakes, mountains & trails had not yet been by massed hordes discovered.

Everybody knew everybody. No one locked doors at night. Friends and neighbors regularly shared family duties and dinners. Kids lived outdoors twenty-four seven. A young Adirondack boy’s social life revolved around baseball mitts, fishing poles, baseball cards, comic books, and his bike. Youthful outlaw transgressions were, by and large, much more widely tolerated and much less harshly punished.

As one of those mid-seventies Saranac Lake boys, like all of my friends, I lived on my bike. Fishing pole in one hand, tackle box in the other, on any given summer day I could be found cruising up and out Pine Street, down the dirt road past the gravel pit my dad always grumbled about, out to catch native brookies in some of my favorite brooks, streams and secret spots along the McKenzie Pond Road.

Sometimes there were other bikes with me. Most often times though, I fished alone. Whichever the case, there were almost always nice brook trout to be caught in the eddies under the bridge where the Kurung Pond outlet stream flowed. Another good fishing spot was down at the road junction with Route 86 in Ray Brook, where there were big culverts in which big trout liked to hide.

Sometimes I’d ride my bike all the way to Lake Placid, where I’d fish the outlet, down behind the parking lot below where the Old Howard Johnson’s used to sit. My friend Steve hooked into the biggest brown trout either of us had ever encountered to that point one day there, as we bushwack waded the alders, fishing our way downstream from the bridge in that spot.

Other times, we’d go out behind the Ray Brook DEC office, stash our bikes, braving bloodthirsty deerflies and swarming blackflies to walk a dirt road down to a boggy headwater pond we were pretty sure the DEC stocked. We caught a lot of trout in the deeper holes of that pond. Some of them were native trout, others looked to us like they were stocked.

It was easy to tell the difference between stocked trout and natives. We usually cleaned all of our trout on the spot. One quick slice from the trout’s poop hole to the gills with a pocketknife, which we all carried, followed by one finger along the spine, then with a quick tug everything came out clean, guts gills & all. The stocked brookies were pale both in both their skin color and light pink flesh in comparison to their vibrantly colored red fleshed native brethren. Sometimes we’d open up the guts to see what they had been feeding on. Usually, it was bugs.

Our standard trout fishing bait for most of the season was nightcrawlers or worms, on a bobber. We picked nightcrawlers at night, when the ground was wet, on warm muggy nights, right after a good rain. Sometimes during. Picking nightcrawlers was a skillset all its own. We’d put red lenses in our flashlights, walk really slowly and softly until we spotted one, lying in the grass, half out of its hole. It took a quick hand to snatch one, then patience, slowly pulling the struggling worm from its hole, bit by bit, being careful not to break it in half. I kept a big box full of wet leaves in our garage, where, once harvested, I stored my valuable stash of nice big juicy worms.

Brook trout are soft fleshed. Their mouths are small. They proved nearly impossible to hook if we used a whole nightcrawler or worm. So, we’d use small, barbed Snell hooks, with only a piece of a nightcrawler. We’d wait until the bobber went under & stayed. Then we knew we had one hooked good enough to start reeling. Most of the brookies we caught swallowed the hook. We caught a whole lot of brook trout that way.

Sometimes though, in late July and early August, when the weather got hot, the trout would stop biting on worms. When that happened, we’d change tactics, ditching the bobbers and switching bait to live grasshoppers, top water, on our tiniest hooks.

There were other places we fished for trout. Sometimes we rode our bikes out to Lake Colby. We caught a lot of bigger trout there, especially in the early spring, when the ice first went out. Occasionally we ventured out to McKenzie Pond itself and jigged for whitefish in a “borrowed” lakeside rowboat.

There was one pond though, out along our McKenzie Pond Road route, that we all yearned to fish. Kurung Pond was private and posted. A “rich people’s pond”, it was strictly off limits.

It didn’t seem quite fair to us kids, fishing all along that stretch of road, on our bikes. We never saw anyone out on that pond, no one fishing, no one swimming, no boats. Most likely owned by rich people, we guessed. We knew there were trout in there, because we caught them all the time, below the dam, underneath the bridge, in the outlet. Seemed like a waste of a perfectly good pond to us.

Then, as luck would have it, one day opportunity unexpectedly knocked. Or so one particular young Adirondack Outlaw thought. The Saranac River flowed down through a set of shallow rapids, under the Pine Street Bridge, right past our house. While it was not a trout fishing spot, we spent a lot of time down by the river. We fished there too, mostly for bullhead, perch, bass & pike though.

There were several back flow eddies on our side of the shoreline, where all sorts of interesting things would float in and bob there, skanky river water froth covered, in amongst the rocks. I found half of a Styrofoam boat in there once. I have no idea where the other half went. Another time I discovered a woman’s purse there. It was empty though, I guessed someone stole it, pilfered its contents, then discarded it. Canoe paddles, some of which I still have, myriad bottles and cans, I once even found a whole bag full of trout, cleaned and headless. I’m not quite sure where they had been caught, but they smelled really bad, so I discarded them.

This particular day though, my attention was drawn by something else. It was a brown wooden sign, floating, chain mounted, on a long broken 4×4. I recognized the sign immediately. I had ridden by it on my bike at least ten thousand times. It read “Kurung Pond”.

I was excited. I immediately thought “Here’s my chance.” I waded in, sneakers blue jeans and all, and set to work rescuing that heavy wooden Kurung Pond sign from the water.

“This is it.” I thought. “This is my chance.” “Certainly they won’t deny me.” “How can they?” “I’ll take this sign back to the owners and ask for permission to fish Kurung Pond.”

There was only one problem. My plan did not work. I returned the Kurung Pond sign and politely asked the pond’s owners for permission to fish it. Their response was a curt “No.” I’m not even sure they said “Thank You”.

Well, I wasn’t sure what world rich people lived in, but in MY world, that particular dog was just not going to hunt.

So, my bike mounted fishing buddies and I decided to take matters into our own hands and administer our own brand of justice. At that point in time, there weren’t many houses along that stretch of road, unlike today. Up just beyond Kurung Pond, on the left side, the Rod & Gun Club, or maybe it was the Fish & Game Club, anyways, I don’t remember now, it was some club, had a dirt road going back to what was some sort of something, horseshoe pits, maybe.

Anyways, we knew that if we stashed our bikes in the woods there and bushwacked, eventually we’d end up on the back side of Kurung Pond. So, fishing pole armed, that’s exactly what we did. We had to fight our way through some swamp holes, beaver dams and alders, but eventually, we found ourselves on the backside of that pond, out of view of the road, or any rich, selfish, pond posting grown-ups.

Well, the fishing back there proved better than promised. Ove the course of the next several summers, we caught many nice brook trout. We even cooked and ate a number of them right there on the spot.

As every Adirondack kid worth his saltshaker knows, there’s no finer tasting outlaw justice than freshly poached trout.


Until Our Trails Cross Again:


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