Floating the river, seeking an old friend

If you drive north on Route 30, the road wanders along the Sacandaga River. Just before reaching Speculator, there’s a scenic pull off on the right. There, across Duck Bay, lie the Siamese Ponds Wilderness and the Kunjamuk River. All of the area accessible by roads belongs to Lyme Paper Company and is open to the public. I spent many years hunting, fishing and hiking in that area. Many of those adventures involved canoeing down the Kunjamuk.

My first trip down the river was in search of the large brown trout that inhabit the river. Old John Voldron and I made the trip when the water was high enough to float over the numerous beaver dams that crossed the river. Using a silver Sacandaga spoon and a night crawler, we’d cast along the banks, hoping to get a hit. I think it was about my third cast when I hooked a fat, 16-inch trout. We took three or four nice browns before overturning on a submerged log.

Wet or not, there was no turning back. We had to continue downstream to the next bridge where we had left one of our vehicles.

My next attempt on the river was during the early bear season one fall. An old-timer told me that the bears really like to feed on the skunk cabbage on the river flats, so we headed out one Saturday for a float. As we drifted silently along we rounded bends and found small, quiet backwaters. Those areas were covered with flights of ducks heading south for the winter. When we got closer to the mouth of the river, we got a quick glimpse of a bear. The problem was, he saw or heard us first and was heading for high ground with no possibility of a shot. Those ducks, however, gave us another reason to return to the river.

Duck season opened, and we headed back to the Kunjamuk. The water was low, so we decided to put in at Duck Bay and paddle up the river, carefully checking out all those bends and backwaters. At one point we heard some ducks just over the stream bank. I was in the front of the canoe and got ready to step out and scramble up the bank, hoping to get a shot.

Once again, things didn’t go as planned.

I assumed that the water was shallow where I stepped from the canoe. It wasn’t. My foot went right out of sight. I instantly lost my balance and ended up in the deep water. When I fell, I lost my shotgun. After climbing onto the shore, I removed my coat and waders and dove down several times before finding my gun.

Another time, we were again duck hunting on the river. A friend of mine and I stayed at a narrow section of Elm Lake while Don and his father went upstream to the next bridge. They would float the river and push the ducks downstream to us. Four hours later, they finally showed up. The water was too low and the numerous log jams and beaver dams made the float just about impossible. They did move some ducks, though. Two mallards came flying at mach speed down out of the timber, heading right at us. Fred and I each shot twice, missing them both.

You don’t have to hunt or fish to float the river and enjoy the area. It’s a beautiful scenic trip. I’ve been told that the river is open most of the way from Elm Lake to Duck Bay. Turn off Route 30 at Speculator and head up East Road. A few miles up the river you’ll see Elm Lake. Put in there and head back down to civilization. It’s best to leave a car where you’ll end your journey.

For those who are into other sports, all the roads on the paper company’s land make great mountain biking trails. You can get a map at some of the stores in town.

East Road finally dead ends about nine miles in. Many years ago it was the main road to Indian Lake. There’s a well-marked hiking trail from the parking area ending at Long Pond. If you hit it right, there are some beautiful brook trout in that backcountry pond. But trust me… they aren’t easy to catch.

I spent many years hunting the mountains, floating the river and fishing the ponds in Kunjamuk country. Old John took me there when I first moved to Wells and taught me so much about the wilderness. Every time I return, I see his spirit in the shadows and hear his tall tales and wilderness wisdom whispering in the breeze. Memories of that country will be with me forever.

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