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Dreams of a River

It’s been almost 15 years since the first time I laid eyes on the beauty of the 1000 Islands. I still remember it, partly because I still experience the same emotions and feelings every year, when I make the annual fishing trip. Having been lucky enough to share the experiences with friends and family, it’s something I look forward to every year.

My tale started around 1999. While visiting my father, he started telling me about the trip he’d made to the 1000 Islands. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the tales of toothy catches and mishaps, but this year was different, he’d made a video of the trip. He and a group of friends had been making the trip for a few years, traveling to Gananoque and renting a houseboat. His stories included tales of all these islands with names like Camelot, Mermaid, and Grindstone.

The video opened with a shot of a huge green bridge ascending into the sky, at the apex the camera quickly shifted to the left giving me my first look at the 1000 islands. I cannot describe the feeling I had watching the screen, except to say I was captivated. The scenery was nothing compared to the image my mind created from his stories. The water stretched out into the horizon with islands dotting the landscape, some with homes and boats. I was hooked then but just didn’t realize it.

The next scenes were from the houseboat as it left Bateau Channel. The cable ferry at the opening of the channel was crossing the screen on its never ending journey, delivering cars across the channel from the main land onto Howe Island and back again. The houseboat continued across the open expanse of the Forty-Acres Shoal. Locally known as the premiere spot to catch a Musky. I’ve learned that this seemingly serene looking area can be a hair-raising experience to cross in a boat, let alone in a houseboat. Kick up a little wind and this calm stretch of open water turns into a boat eating machine. No doubt the source of many gray hairs even for locals who get caught on the wrong side when an unexpected wind churns up the water. White caps ripping across this shoal, while beautiful to watch from safety, gives even a seasoned captain reason to look for shelter until the winds die down. The first order of any trip is to check the weather forecast for the wind speeds knowing that it will decide if we’re docking at Aubrey or crossing the shoal, heading to Camelot or Endymion.

The video continued to show various islands and fish caught.  Half-way through, I was already coming up with my list of names for a trip.  I took the video with me and it didn't take long or much convincing to get the guys to agree. 

The overriding sense that still amazes me every trip, as we pulled out into the channel, is the smell. No, not in a “Whew, what is that?” kind of smell but just the smell of clean water. Climbing up to the top of the houseboat as we crossed the channel the next shock was the clarity of the water. I knew the water depth from the equipment we brought and the maps we’d had but my eyes just could not reconcile that I could clearly see the bottom. I have learned that it’s caused by the zebra mussels that have invaded the waterway as hitch-hikers on boats. Generally seen as a detriment to the ecology of the seaway’s fishery and aquatic plant life, I have to say from a visitor’s stand point it creates and compliments the already beautiful scenery.

While our trips are centered on the hunt for massive toothy pike and Musky, I’m always fascinated by the homes and cottages that rise from the various islands; some barely able to be called a cabin, let alone a shed and others with boat houses bigger than my home! As we float along the islands I try to imagine the lives of those that live here all year long and those that can call these structures a vacation home. Envious would be a kind word for what I feel as I imagine my wife, daughter and I living that life.

A fortuitous item of note for visitors is that there are various islands that have been marked as Canadian National Park or New York State Parks. Visitors will find massive docks with picnic tables so you can enjoy your riverside lunch or dinner. Add in a view that can only be experienced as no description can do it justice, especially on a clear cool night as you watch the setting sun. A few docks even have pavilions with a fireplace,  while others offer locations to set up a tent if you’re looking for a night out under the stars.

The list of wild life you’ll see is endless as well. I will never forget on our third trip, we were docked at Camelot Island, looking back through the cut between Camelot and Niagara Island towards the Canadian islands and watched as a four point white tail buck swam between the islands. My brother was able to get a somewhat blurry shot off, as the rest of us looked at each other in disbelief.

Now, not to alarm any future visitors but last year one of our party decided to make a quick run to the outhouse while we cooked breakfast. While the sun was rising and the landscape was starting to lighten up, it was still dark enough on the island that he needed to use a flash light. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes before he came scrambling into the boat looking a little green in the gills. As we looked at him with smiles, thinking he couldn’t find it, we waited for the tale he was sure to tell. Listening, our smirks soon faded and turned into disbelieving head shakes.

It seems that as he traveled the path, concentrating on the ground to make sure he took the right fork and not trip, he crested a small incline and raised the flash light expecting to see the outhouse. He was caught totally unprepared for what his small light exposed in its beam. There, not more than 20 yards were a pair of eyes glowing in the light. There are any number of small eyes that could be glowing in the beam of a flash light on an island. In this case the eyes were not a few inches off the ground, no these eyes were about chest high. As he told us, it took a few seconds for his brain to match what his eyes were seeing. There sitting on the path was a Black Bear. There is really little to fear from a black bear as they have no more desire to see you as you do them but caution is always the best practice. Growing up in the woods of Pennsylvania, we’re no strangers to black bears but it was the last thing he expected to see on an island. Now that his brain was engaged, he slowly backed up until he was out of eye sight, then lit a fire under his shoes and high-tailed it outta there back to the boat. Needless to say we decided that bathroom visits were best served, when the light still offers the ability to see more than a few feet in front of you.

We always visit in the fall, usually mid-to-late September but have started to drift into mid October. We go for what is called a long weekend, which is Friday through Tuesday and have rented a houseboat for most the the trips. This year we will be staying on the American side probably in Clayton. The beauty of this time of year is that we practically have the river to ourselves. The weather is usually very pleasant but cool enough that most of the pleasure boaters and jet skis are put away for the year and the best part is, there are hardly any bugs, flies or other pests.

There is nothing quite like floating on calm, clear water, watching your lure skimming through the water above the endless weed beds and seeing the rocketing flash of a white belly when a pike shoots out of the weeds to attack your lure. Throw in all the natural beauty and the serene landscape and I ask you, is there any better place on earth?

By Tyler W. Barton

T.W. (Ty) Barton lives in Central Pennsylvania and dreams of living in the Thousand Islands.  He and a crew of friends have been traveling to the Islands since 2000, for an annual fishing trip.  He's had so many memorable experiences and a few that he would just as soon forget ever happned like - "the worst year was when, in the course of a day and a half, I lost the lower unit of my boat's motor, the sole of my only footware ripped off and while stepping onto the dock, knocked my walkie-talkie off my pants and watched ti drop between the boat and the dock!"  Ty manages a book review web site, T.W. Barton Book Reviews, and posts reviews of books primarily, by indie authors, those who publish without agents or publicists.

Posted in: Places, Nature, Sports
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Alice Wadsworth
Comment by: Alice Wadsworth
Left at: 7:31 PM Monday, September 15, 2014
Loved this article Ty. Made me feel like I was actually there. What adventures you have had on your annual trips!
Tyler Barton (Pennsylvania)
Comment by: Tyler Barton (Pennsylvania)
Left at: 2:23 PM Tuesday, September 16, 2014
HA! Thanks Alice. It's surely been some good times and some hairy ones.
Bob Showers
Comment by: Bob Showers
Left at: 5:33 PM Tuesday, September 16, 2014
This article is well written as a cross between "Travel & Leisure" and "Field and Stream". The latter of which I read when my Pap was through with them. He was my fishing mentor and articles like this always remind me of him and our small, but everlasting, fishing adventures together.

Well done Ty and thank you.
Tyler W. Barton
Comment by: Tyler W. Barton
Left at: 6:39 PM Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Glad you liked it Bob. Thank you. Glad I could bring back some great memories.