I have always enjoyed paddling Lake Clear Outlet. The water body is small enough to be paddled in a short period of time, but it contains enough nooks and weedy edges to explore for a few hours if you want. Add to that the potential of paddling Lake Clear itself, and paddlers can take a long time plying the linked waters of the area.
I generally prefer to paddle either in the morning or in the evening when low light and cooler temperatures make for better photography and more comfortable paddling. And that is just what Wren and I were shooting for when we set out on Lake Clear Outlet the other evening. We pushed off from the small put-in along Forest Home Road and set out as the sun’s low rays glanced off the triangle shape of Whiteface Mountain in the distance. Two other boats were already on the water – one fishing and the other paddling the far shore. The paddlers spooked up a Great Blue Heron stalking fish and frogs in the aquatic vegetation and I watched it fly low over the water and disappear as it landed. Shortly thereafter two Wood Ducks came out from the far shore, wheeled a great circle in the sky, and settled not too far from where we were paddling. I decided to investigate.
We slowly eased into the pickerelweed and other aquatic plants to see if we could find the ducks. I was trying to be as silent as possible as the boat brushed through the green leaves, but we found nothing. I stopped and watched, and waited. Still nothing. A Pileated Woodpecker called and flew over the trees bordering the water, but there was no sign of the ducks. Then suddenly a male Wood Duck jumped from its hiding place in front of us and cruised on fast wings across the lake. We never did see the second bird and I decided not to venture further and spook it. They were too well hidden to see without chasing them.
We continued on listening to the calls of Song Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats from the shoreline as a Belted Kingfisher flew overhead. We had pretty much completed our loop of the shoreline of the outlet and I paused by a large beaver lodge waiting to see if its inhabitants were swimming in the shadows, but I found none.
We paddled north along the channel leading from Lake Clear, looking at the small camps along the shoreline, and spooking a few silhouetted heads of Painted Turtles beneath the surface as we approached them. At the bridge crossing which ducks paddlers beneath Route 30 we waved to a fisherman who smiled as he told us about his poor luck in catching anything that night. It was a great evening to be out all the same. Wren didn’t like the low bridge as we passed beneath it and started to become fidgety as we headed upstream to Lake Clear, cutting around the final bend to take in the lake in the soft, fading light.
But there wasn’t time to explore Lake Clear. I had pushed our daylight far enough and we needed to return to our car – we were fighting darkness as it was. We passed the boating fishermen we had seen earlier – now using their oars to navigate the narrow channel in their jon boats. Their outboard motors were pulled up in the shallow water. After passing back under the bridge, we found the channel had several Mallard and American Black Ducks which scurried out of our path. Wren watched them with alert interest, but thankfully didn’t do anything more.
We were making tracks now as light was fading – and I could make out the shapes and calls of Wood Ducks and Mallards flapping across the water at our approach. I didn’t pause to look further at them - I wanted to get us back before it grew too dark. But we were prepared for a later-than-planned arrival and I took out my headlamp to help us find the small take-out slip more easily in the gloom. I soon had the gear reloaded on the car and we were headed towards home, a shower, and bed.