Hot Day On Fish Creek

September 29, 2017

A surreal journey on a blistering Autumn day

It was Sunday, the third day of autumn, and The Wife was determined to go boating in Fish Creek up in Saratoga County.  It was extremely sunny and the temperature was 91 degrees fahrenheit because of (WARNING: politically incorrect comment) Global Warming caused by Climate Breakdown, which as we all know we are required to pretend is not a problem even though hot summer now extends well into Autumn.  I can say that just because it was late September and the sun was arcing low in the sky, we found out the hard way that you can indeed get too much sun if you don’t watch out.

We got there kind of later than we wanted to and didn’t launch our boats until quarter after ten.  Already the parking lot was filling up with cars and pickups with boat trailers.  Oh, and if you go up there be warned: unlike the State boat launches which are free, this county lot charges $7.00 for the privilege of leaving your car or boat trailer for the day.

On Fish Creek In Late September On Fish Creek In Late September

Now, Fish Creek doesn’t look very much like a creek, at least not until you follow it quite a ways downstream.  The first time we put in our boats several years ago we thought it was Saratoga Lake.  But Saratoga Lake is a pretty big body of water, divided from Fish Creek by a bridge, and Fish Creek is the drainage for Saratoga Lake that eventually empties into the Hudson River at Schuylerville.  

The boat ramp at the bridge, as far as we know, is the only public place to put in for both bodies of water.  About 4 miles or so down Fish Creek is a dam that not only turns Fish Creek into a shallow lake but also significantly raises the level of Saratoga Lake.  On this trip we paddled all the way up to the dam, which turned out to be a crazy strenuous thing to do because two days after this trip we were both still recovering from the effort.

Rough Water On Saratoga Lake, 2016 Rough Water On Saratoga Lake, 2016

Saratoga Lake is a serious body of water with characteristically rough waves.  We found it a lot of work to navigate in a small boat and not very interesting.  There’s very little to see, the shore is lined with rich people’s McMansions and on a sunny weekend there are so many fancy powerboats roaring about you’d think you were on the Northway on a Friday afternoon.  Last time we put in there I was shadowed by two bored goofs in a Sheriff’s patrol boat, presumably because my old whitewater tub looks suspiciously used and not late model so therefore I must be some kind of criminal.

Fish Creek on the other hand, once you get a little ways downstream, is calm and quiet.  Because it’s shallower you don’t see too many powerboats, and no sheriff’s patrols.  There’s long stretches of uninhabited marsh along the shoreline, and although there are a few McMansions there are plenty of real homes and funky shacks and other odd structures along with plenty of natural vegetation.  All in all a much more interesting paddle.

Marshy Shore Along Fish Creek Marshy Shore Along Fish Creek 

Because we’d had a prolonged dry spell this past month with no rain along with the intense heat, the vegetation had a peculiar burned over look.  By this time it was supposed to look like Autumn, but instead the greenery had this kind of late summer survival look.  It was like the plant life was confused and knew it was supposed to have retired by now but couldn’t figure out how.

Interestingly we saw very few bugs, they had mostly gone.  Way downstream I saw some water skimmers and when a big dragonfly landed on my leg I was momentarily shocked because I hadn’t seen any.  But that was about it.  No stinging or annoying flies, no bees or butterflies among the reeds.  And the only wildlife we saw on the water were a few ducks.

Decaying Lily Pads And Water Grass Decaying Lily Pads And Water Grass 

Due to the dam downstream, Fish Creek has a very slow current.  This makes for easy paddling in either direction, and it also means there are plenty of stagnant spots along the banks.  The shore is mostly marsh except where the bank rises steep out of the water or where someone has put a house and landscaped the water’s edge with lawn grass.

The lily pads and water grass should have all disappeared or turned brown by now, but instead we saw big patches of weeds way past their prime but hanging on.  Deep in the water the submerged plants that look like vast aquatic towering Cities were half brown and choked with green masses of algae.  A few small fish darted about, inhabitants of these Cities that had become decayed slums.

Summer In The Autumn Summer In The Autumn 

I became fascinated by all this as I drifted along.  I thought about how I’d never really appreciated this sort of late summer decay before, preferring the bright green and lively growth of spring and early summer while deliberately ignoring the end of season tatters.  I decided it was time to change my attitude, especially now that the warming climate would be bringing more of this late warmth to us and to the naturally occurring living things.

Blue Green Algae Alive And Dead Blue Green Algae Alive And Dead 

There were patches of florescent blue-green algae oozing and bubbling on the surface.  There were also big patches of what I thought was brown algae, but eventually I figured out that the brown stuff was just the green stuff that had expired but was still floating.  It was definitely a sign of stagnation, if I paddled through it a little too vigorously it tended to sink and dissipate.

I wondered why there was so much of it, you don’t usually see much in Spring or high Summer.  They say it occurs as a result of the high phosphorus content of runoff from sewage and lawn fertilizer.  I’ve heard it is poisonous, apparently nothing around here was eating it.

Fishing On Fish Creek, Note The Shiny Oil Slick On The Water Fishing On Fish Creek, Note The Shiny Oil Slick On The Water 

Word is that fishing is excellent on both Fish Creek and on Saratoga Lake.  We saw a number of fancy expensive looking fishing craft operated by guys who seemed to spend half their time talking on their phones.  We generally tried to give them a wide arc as we passed but they usually pulled back their lines from us and looked annoyed.

Because of all the powerboats on Saratoga Lake, Fish Creek has one big oil slick floating on top of it.  You can see the oil shiny reflecting the surrounding scenery like a mirror.  This oil, which leaks from every single petroleum powered boat, has become so ubiquitous on our waterways that most everybody thinks that it’s part of the natural ecosystems.

Ladies Doing Yoga On Paddleboards Ladies Doing Yoga On Paddleboards 

After narrowing a bit the creek opens up wide.  Another half mile and we came to The Ladies Doing Yoga On Paddleboards, apparently a Sunday morning tradition through the summer at this spot.  In the past I’ve simply gawked as I passed and declined to take any pictures out of respect or something, but this year I’ve seen maybe a half dozen photos in various media outlets of the ladies on their boards, photos taken from the water.  

So this time I snapped a few pictures.  All the other photos I’ve seen have bright green vegetation and no decaying plants in the water surrounding them.  And the ladies were doing shoulder stands or such.  My photos are expressions of this overly late summer and thus unique or something. But I didn’t wait for them to put their legs in the air. 

The Creek Was Lousy With First-Time Kayakers And Paddleboarders The Creek Was Lousy With First-Time Kayakers And Paddleboarders 

After the ladies we came to the only commercial area along here which we have taken to calling Wood Fired Pizza.  There’s a restaurant here that proclaims this with a big sign but sadly does not open until 5PM.  Which is their loss, even if their “artisan” pizza turned out to be mediocre and overpriced we would certainly be their customers. 

There’s also a kayak and paddleboard rental place along the shore in front of the restaurant that was doing an absolutely booming business on this hot sunny Sunday.  The creek was lousy with their customers.  But these renters are all beginners, we noted that none of them proceed too far from their point of origin like we were doing.

The Wife was, of course, incensed that so few of them bothered to wear lifejackets.  “What if they hit their heads, what good would having a lifejacket sitting on your paddleboard do?”  A beginner kayaker that I passed asked me how to handle a wave generated by a powerboat that had just passed us.  “You point your boat into it and ride it,” I said.  He looked very skeptical like I was joshing him, probably because he noticed I hadn’t bothered to turn my own super-stable whitewater kayak at the little wave.

Guess I Won’t Trespass Guess I Won’t Trespass 

We probably saw a couple of hundred kayakers, canoeists and paddleboarders on the creek that day.  No exagerration.  But once we got past the rentals at Wood Fired Pizza the creek got a lot quieter.  We still would come upon the occasional fishing rig or kayak as we continued downstream.

Property For Sale, Needs Work Property For Sale, Needs Work 

A half mile past Wood Fired Pizza we came to an odd choke point in the creek where there is a tumbledown shack hanging over the water along with double rows of grass-topped wooden piers sticking out of the water on both sides of the creek.  There may have been a bridge here in the past, certainly docks.  There is a narrow boat channel in the middle marked with buoys, only small craft can proceed past this point.

Permanent Duck Blind On Fish Creek Permanent Duck Blind On Fish Creek 

I noted several wooden structures on the water’s edge that almost certainly served as duck blinds.  Hunters sit in the cold dark inside these things during duck hunting season in late Autumn, freezing their butts and cramping their joints early in the morning, concealed behind tarps waiting for a hapless duck to paddle past so they can blast it to hell.  Don’t ask me why, it’s the thrill of the hunt or something I suppose.

But it does show that when it gets a little cold and the humans with their various boats are mostly gone and the oil slicks slither away into the Hudson that the ducks and presumably other wildlife return to the creek in quantity.  I’m surprised that shooting is allowed so close to residences in Saratoga county, and I’m surprised that these duck blind structures are allowed to stay permanently.

The Wife Drifts Past A House, More Marshland Beyond The Wife Drifts Past A House, More Marshland Beyond 

I’m a little confused by all this, the area around Fish Creek doesn’t seem to be a designated wildlife preserve.  Or maybe I’m not looking in the right places.  There’s a lot of unbroken shoreline of marsh and reeds with the occasional mostly occupied residences every so often.  I kept wondering why the creek is not overdeveloped like the shores of Saratoga Lake, with overpriced McMansions rammed up against each other.

Gazebos Enclosed With Screens Are Popular Along The Creek Gazebos Enclosed With Screens Are Popular Along The Creek 

If there is no preserve, maybe it’s all about the State and federal laws preserving marshland.  They would make it very difficult to sell and exploit real estate along the creek.  But it seems to me that if the demand for waterfront property becomes great enough then those with the means will find ways to get around the laws.

Suddenly, Pine Trees Suddenly, Pine Trees 

As we proceeded the creek narrowed and the shore became less marshy, rising in steep banks at a lot of places.  The vegetation changed accordingly, at some bends it even looked almost like the Adirondacks.  Beyond that we started to see more houses.

We kept going and going, well past when we should have stopped and taken a rest.  But there were no convenient spots for us to land the boats except for private houses, and we really didn’t want to trespass and deal with an irate homeowner.  We kept meeting occasional boaters who assured us that we were approaching the dam, so we consoled ourselves with that thought as we sloshed along.

The Dam On Fish Creek The Dam On Fish Creek 

Long story short, we eventually hit Route 29 and the creek made a sharp right turn.  Shortly after that we found the dam, the sluice gate that turned the creek into a stagnant lake and turned Saratoga lake into a miniature ocean.  This was a little over four miles from where we started, and to my consternation there was nowhere to land the boats except a stretch of private property decorated with several no trespassing signs.  Damn. Or dam. Or something.

The dam was obviously rebuilt recently, the concrete looked new, but I wonder why a dam was placed here in the first place. Was it originally a mill dam from the 1800s?  If so then the person who placed the original dam didn’t give much thought to the vast consequences of damming the creek here.

Well, for whatever reason the original dam was put here, everyone upstream adapted to the flooded creek and higher level of the lake beyond.  The dam has to be maintained today for no other reason than to keep the water level consistent.  If the dam were to be removed then a lot of marshland would instantly disappear, and a lot of expensive waterfront McMansions around Saratoga Lake would suddenly sit quite a distance from the water.

Heading Back, Note The Oil Slick On The Water Is Thicker On The Left Heading Back, Note The Oil Slick On The Water Is Thicker On The Left

So we turned around and headed back.  I kept looking for a place to land and rest, but The Wife did not like any of my suggestions, mostly because she didn’t want to put her nice clean feet into muck.  Back by Wood Fired Pizza we could have landed but it was such a beehive of activity that we realized we wouldn’t be welcomed by the proprietors of the rental business, particularly since we weren’t going to do any business with them.

We both overdid it.  We paddled five and a half hours without even a pee break in that hot sun.  I should have insisted that we make the effort and at least stop to stretch our legs and find some shade, even if it meant sinking our feet in the muck.  As a result I managed to give myself heatstroke and The Wife pulled her back, leaving us both sick and hurting and worthless for the next few days.  Pretty dumb on my part.

There Were Some Ducks... There Were Some Ducks . . .

The last mile of the return journey there were all kinds of powerboats tearing back and forth all around us, loud noisy engines and oily water churning in their wakes.  Pretty unpleasant.  The parking lot was packed and there was a line of boats in the water waiting to use the one concrete boat ramp to land, while at the same time on land another line of mostly pickups with trailers waiting to launch boats.  These bodies of water sure could use another public boat launch.

Fortunately there is also a nice gravel slope off to one side of the concrete launch that can be used by paddle boats and small kayaks.  We landed, literally staggered out of our boats, ran to use the port-a-potties, brought the car around and loaded the boats.  It was mid afternoon and it sure was time to leave.