Middle Saranac Lake to Lake Flower via Kayak/Canoe
Nate Swain, TJ Johnston, David Haenel, Lizzie Savoie
Dates of Trip:
Saturday, September 5 to Sunday, September 6
We left from Paul Smith’s at about 2:00 pm on Saturday. We had intended to leave around noon, as we had a lot of miles to cover, but one thing led to another and we left late. We dropped off our gear at the South Creek boat launch on Rt. 3, then delivered a vehicle to Saranac Lake for when we finished. We finally got into the water about 3:30 pm, with Lizzie and I in kayaks and David and TJ in a two-man canoe. They also carried the majority of our gear.
We encountered nothing but blue skies and puffy clouds throughout the first day of paddling. We made it through Middle Saranac Lake with ease, then slowed down significantly after the Upper Locks between Middle and Lower Saranac. We hit Lower Saranac around 5:00, and again took our time getting to the next set of locks. By the time we hit the Lower Locks, it was 7:45 and the attendant had called it a night. TJ operated the locks for us, and just after the sun finally set, we were on our way again. We turned on headlamps and flashlights at this point, to make ourselves more visible to motorboats.
Paddling in the dark was not our intention. It is a somewhat scary experience, one that I have never had before; if we hadn’t been in a group, I probably would have pulled off and camped in the woods ASAP. However, we pushed through the last mile-and-a-half section to Kiwassa Lake, where we had originally planned on camping. We searched the shore for a lean-to that was supposed to be there, but when we couldn’t find it, we gave up and paddled to the island in the middle of the lake. The island is mostly private land, but the tip is on state land and home to a small primitive campsite.
We pulled up on the island around 9:00, got a small fire going in the pit, and cooked some dinner. We were able to camp out under the stars that night, as temperatures remained in the high fifties and there was no hint that precipitation was anywhere nearby. The stars and the night sky were unbelievable.
We woke up around 5:00 am and packed our things quickly, as David needed to get back for class at 8:00. We were back on the water by 5:20, and about halfway through the channel, we realized David and TJ would need to paddle ahead to make it back in time. Lizzie and I continued on our way more leisurely, witnessing a breathtaking dawn over Oseetah Lake, and then over Lake Flower a little later in the morning. Lizzie and I pulled up out of the water at about 7:30 AM. TJ and David had just rolled up in TJ’s car to pick up the canoe.
Great night all around!
I spent my summer on Raspberry Island. a remote island northwest of Kodiak Alaska. The island I lived on for about 70 days had a few modest fishing cabins and no full-time residents. Roosevelt Elk on the island vastly outnumbered the summer fisherman.
I traveled to Alaska with a good friend with hopes of catching record numbers of Alaskan Sockeye Salmon. My goal for the summer was to work hard and enjoy what “the last frontier” had to offer. We were commercial fishing, which was very new to me too. Fishing has been one of my favorite hobbies for many years. I grew up fishing on Lake Erie and the mighty Niagara River in Western New York. My favorite target species include northern pike, muskellunge and smallmouth bass. Spinning and casting rods have been my go-to. Salmon fishing with huge gill nets was new to me, and was certainly an experience I will never forget. I was always the fisherman in my journey, but this summer I had the privilege of changing my perspective.
On August 10th I had the privilege of flying to Katmai National Park in a float plane with the family I was working for. It was my last day in Alaska, and certainly the most unforgettable. We flew to Katmai in search of Kodiak brown bears, which are the largest subspecies of brown bear in the world – the only bear larger is the polar bear. Males can weigh up to 1,500 pounds and stand 10 feet tall when they are on their hind legs. I wondered how close we would get, and how crazy we were.
A few hours into the trip, I found myself standing in a salmon stream with over 10 bears. This time they were the ones doing the fishing, and I was the one with the camera. Over the next two hours, we watched the bears run up and down the river chasing, and of course eating, salmon. Sometimes they would even stand on their hind legs and challenge a passing bear. It was mostly playful. These bears didn’t need a tackle box, boat, or fishing license from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game; they could eat as many pink salmon as they wanted to, and it was definitely a free for all.
I will never forget the power and skill they had. Watching these large predators in their natural environment was truly amazing. This experience, along with others, have permanently changed my perspective on fishing. I have learned that taking a camera and a notebook, instead of a rod and reel, can be even more rewarding than landing the “big one.”