Spring has sprung and so have the fish! Okay, well that's not exactly true. The fish are always there, but April 1 and May 1 mean the start of fishing seasons, a time when a freshly-caught brook trout may become dinner over a campfire, and when fishermen and women are seen floating and wading into cool Adirondack waters. It's also a time when seasonal businesses start to open back up and our dreams of tacos and ice cream cones can finally come true after a long, long winter.
In the Saranac Lake area, we're spoiled by an abundance of sweet, savory, amazing seasonal businesses, all of which pair well with a great fish story and an afternoon out on the water. Whether you're never fished in your life or you're an old salt, you know your nymphs from your streamers or not (I don't; I googled), whether you even eat fish or you're more of a hot dog person, this is the summer for fishing and fish tacos. This is the summer to head to Ray Brook and Wiley's Flies for an array of summery goodness.
Who's Wiley and why I should go see him?
True story: Wiley was a German shorthair who, once upon a time, happened to own a human named Vince Wilcox. Wilcox is a fisherman, businessman, fly tyer, avid skier, family man, foodie, and beer maven. His business, named after Wiley, began as an online-only fly shop in Colorado and has evolved into a physical store in Ray Brook with a food truck and bar, along with an ice cream stand just a few miles away.* Wiley thought Vince was pretty cool, and I think you will too. Along with other businesses such as Ray Brook Brewhouse, The Pine Cone, and Tail O' the Pup, he's helping put the fun in Ray Brook.
The fly shop
Have you ever been fly fishing? Me neither, but I grew up watching it and I think it looks peaceful, graceful, and relaxing. According to Wilcox, it is all of those things and so much more. The fly shop at Wiley's is where your adventure really begins, although in truth it probably began in your imagination a long time ago and wouldn't go away. Here you can shop for gear, chat with guides, meet Wilcox's dad if you're lucky, and arrange for a guided fishing experience. The team offers float trips on rafts, as well as wading trips, to special, scenically stunning locations throughout the area.
Wilcox explains that "it's easy to fly fish. It's hard to be good at it." Even after years of fishing and thousands upon thousands of trips, Wilcox's main priority when guiding is that the client (you, me, your grandkids) has fun, learns something neat, and has a great experience. It's really not about the fish. It's about everything else: the people you meet, the experiences, the sights you'll see on the river or a lake at dawn, the tranquility that comes over you when it's just you and the fly and the rest of the world fades out. I didn't really get that until I met Wilcox: fly fishing doesn't just look cool, it is something about you and nature that is hard to define and is incredibly rewarding, fish or no fish.
Just as fishing isn't just about the fish, Wiley's Flies isn't just about the fly shop; over the past few years, the business has expanded to include the perfect spot to unwind after a day on the water. Bar Flies is a cozy watering hole great for a cool drink on a hot day, a post-fishing reward, or the spot to swap fishing stories. The bar may be small, but Wilcox wanted to create a space where people could relax. There are always eight beers on tap, plus more in the cooler, and the selection rotates, so that guests always have the opportunity to try something new and special.
Wilcox and his team also have a fun array of cocktails, including the punny Sansquanch, a Adirondack-inspired concoction full of fruity flavor and smooth gin. Pull up a stool at the bar, try out the mini pool table, or stretch out on the porch, the choice is yours. If you have a fish story, even better!
ADK Street Eats
Question: What's a cold beer without a great meal? Answer: boring! Parked on the lawn at Wiley's, adjacent to comfy porch chairs and the libations of Bar Flies is the ADK Street Eats food truck, one of the most popular food spots in the area. In this humble green food trailer, Chef Matt Fleury whips up aromatic, flavorful dishes.
The standard menu includes plump, char-grilled burritos and tacos, while the daily specials include a mouth-watering array of options, with items such as cubanos and the wild "Redneck dog," a tasty hot dog that gets wrapped in bacon and deep fried, then topped with pulled pork, slaw, onions, and a chipotle crema. I guarantee that this will be your new favorite spot for lunch and dinner this summer.
This summer, whether you go fishing or just dream about it, go to Wiley's Flies. Chat with the guides in the fly shop (they're super friendly and welcoming), grab a drink, and dig in to the best darn taco you've ever eaten, all at one fantastic spot in scenic Ray Brook.
The Wiley's Flies businesses in Ray Brook walk from both Meadowbrook State Campground and Sherwood Forest Motor Inn, making it a convenient spot for vacationers to eat well and savor curated craft beer among excellent company. Wilcox has led fishing trips for former US Presidents, rock stars, and athletes, but it's the people like you and me (really!) who stop in, fish, and share a drink who have always made the biggest impression. The handcrafted bar at Bar Flies isn't decorated with photos of famous clients, it's former guides who became family, regular clients who come year in and year out.
In the 1800s, Henry David Thoreau, one of America's most legendary lovers of nature wrote, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Vince and his team aren't after the fish. I'm not either. We're all after the experience and, of course, the tacos.
*The Bloomingdale bonus
If we're honest, summer food is really all about ice cream. Don't worry: you can satifsy your sweet tooth at another one of Wiley's dad's businesses! In nearby Bloomingdale, a hamlet just a few miles from Saranac Lake, you should not miss the creamy goodness of ice cream at Teddy's Ice Cream and Grill, a classic roadside ice cream stand. Amid the heat of summer, the treats at Teddy's are famously fabulous: from the candy-laden flurries to humongous ice cream sandwiches made with freshly baked cookies. Sundaes, shakes, even apple cake with ice cream, and a special flavor of the week round out an indulgent menu.