The Adirondack Challenge

  • By: Matt Crawford

New York’s Ausable River tumbles out of the Adirondack Mountains, twisting and turning its way toward Lake Champlain. It’s a short run, really—about 40 miles in a straight line—but along the way the Ausable provides some of the best trout fishing in eastern New York.

That fishing is celebrated each year in late May in the town of Wilmington with the annual Ausable Two Fly Challenge, a laid-back catch-and-release tournament originally designed to raise awareness of fishery issues on the West Branch of the Ausable. (The author fishes a stretch of the river in Wilmington in the photo here.)

The tournament is a fund-raiser for the Ausable River Association, and anglers from around the country show up to see if they’re able to fish an entire day with just two flies— tossing them to the broad-shouldered browns that live in the river, particularly below the boulder-strewn (read: snags galore) pocket water.

Eli Barlia, who hails from just north of Detroit, participated in the 2009 Two Fly Challenge, held on a warmish but showery day. Barlia did pretty well, using a Hendrickson dry pattern at the end of the day to land a 20-incher and take home the award for biggest fish of the year.

The 2009 Big Fish Winner, Eli Barlia (left) came all the way from Michigan to fish the Two Fly

“The river offers a lot of variables,” said Barlia, who waited until late afternoon for a hatch to develop. “You can fish heavy waters with a lot of rocks and riffles, or you can fish slower water with deeper pools.”

Barlia said the best part of the one-day event—which includes a dinner with a guest speaker and awards presentation—is the friendly people and relaxed atmosphere.
“Everybody,” said Barlia, “is just out to fish. They’re not out for blood to win the thing.”

Comparing fly picks—you only get two, so choose wisely...

The 11th annual Two Fly Challenge will be held May 22 this year. See or call (888) 944-8332 for more information.

LODGING: If you take up the Two Fly Challenge, check out the accommodations at Mountain Brook Lodge & Gift Shop in Wilmington, New York, right along Route 86. Hosts Al and Alicia Armstrong keep a clean, comfortable lodge and serve a nice breakfast that you can enjoy the morning after the tournament (as you'll be up at dawn on May 22 for the tournament registration and the gathering of anglers in Wilmington). Go to or call 518-946-2262.