Two weeks ago, Gordo and I floated the Salmon River with guide to the stars Row Jimmy, aka James Kirtland. Conditions weren’t great, nor were they dreadful, and that’s about as good as you can hope for in mid-March in upstate New York. That time of year can be a real mixed bag in terms of action: pre-spawn fish, spawning fish, largely indifferent fish, stale fish, fresh fish, cold or high water. You just never know what you’re going to get. We floated mid-river both days. Here’s what went down.
Monday: We started off below freezing, and we had to do the clearing-ice-from-the-guides dance until very late morning. Although Gordo and I fished hard and well, we had nothing to show for our efforts. The dam release was 1.2K, dropping to 900 at noon; the water was lightly stained and very cold at 34 degrees. Around noon we anchored in some fast, surging water, and I was stunned when my indicator dipped; this was the last place I expected to find fish. I never got a hookset, but it was definitely a bite. A few casts later I hooked up proper. So proper, in fact, that I was stunned when the steelhead came unbuttoned about 20 seconds into the fight. (Insert heavy sigh here.) A couple casts later, I was on again. We could tell it was a good fish because it ran upriver in a blazing 1.4K flow. But we realized something was amiss when the fish turned downstream and ran…and ran…and ran…I was far into my backing when I finally pointed my rod tip at the fish and terminated the connection. (Insert second heavy sigh here.) I reminded myself that the nice thing about multi-day steelheading trips is that there’s always tomorrow…
Tuesday: “@#$% guides make you get up so &^%$ early.” Those were my words to Jim, uttered in mock disgust (but not inaccurate) as we sat in the boat in the dark and rain at 5:30am. Jim wanted us to lock down a prime spot, hence our early start time. Even though I’d already had my coffee, I felt like I could easily nod off. The fishing began as a duplicate of Monday: good drifts over worthy water, with nothing to show for it. Then, I had a strike. It was a big, chrome steelhead, but the take was 60 feet downstream of me. I set the hook as best I could, and began to clear my line in preparation for the battle. The thing about being tired and cold — 36 degrees and raining is, in my opinion, far more chilling that 20 and not raining — is that you might not have your A-game dexterity. The line fouled against my fingers, the fish surged, and then I was forlornly reeling in a limp line to check my hook point.
Our perseverance was rewarded at the next mark. Gordo landed one, then lost a beast of a steelhead inches short of the net when the leader snapped. So go the accidents of war when you’re steelheading.
Then, it was my turn. I’d just finished giving myself a pep talk that went along the lines of: You’re a good angler. You’re fishing in a spot that holds steelhead. You’re fishing with a high-confidence pattern (Copperhead Stone). You can catch a steelhead. The very next cast was a hookup, and a few minutes later I was releasing her 50 yards downstream. Jim did a great job getting into a position where he could net her — they’d been fishing about 75 yards below me — and since all I need is one to make my happy, you can understand the smile on my face.