Salmon River Report 11/22-23: Definitely NOT the Everglades

The pre-Thanksgiving Salmon River steelhead float trip is traditionally for myself and my middle son, Cam. But Cam was away at school. Gordo had school and hockey. Yup. Solo road trip! Coming off my Everglades experience, I was mentally prepared (but still dreading) the inclement weather I was sure to encounter. So, armed with my trusty Ken Abrames Salmo Sax #3, neoprene waders, and a pile of hand warmers, I headed northwest.

I have a knack — no, really, it’s a talent of mine — for picking days months in advance that are (ahem) un-ideal for fishing. This year I chose high water (1,500cfs out of the gate) and the coldest two days in the 10-day forecast. I can deal with both, but jeez Louise…again? The first day was the warmest, although it was mostly cloudy and we had long, frequent spells of “Salmon River Sunshine,” aka lake-effect snow. We did the Altmar-to-Pineville run both days, with the bulk of the fishing in the Altmar area. I would call the angler traffic moderately low, as higher water tends to keep the shore anglers away. Early on, we found an open hole that was deep, dark, and mysterious. My leader butt was 10 feet long, and I had four 3/0 shot on, but I still wasn’t getting down — I could tell by the lack of indicator chugging and dipping. So I asked my guide, Jim Kirtland, to build me a butt section of about four feet or so. That little adjustment was everything, as three casts later the indicator dipped, I set, and steelhead on hijinks ensued. It was a chrome skipper in the 16″18″ class, and I was thrilled to be on the board. My 1-for-1 was short-lived, though, as I dropped my next four touches. To be fair, I had no chance for a hook set on two of them as they occurred as I was lifting the rig at the end of very long drifts; one was totally operator error; and, maddeningly, one was a clean tippet break mid-battle. Not the best luck, but surely that can change.
Persistence pays off. I tried not to let the previous misses get me down. We’d moved to a long, swift-flowing glide where I had the comfort of knowing that at 1.5K, any take would be amplified by the indicator. I’d been on my hook sets pretty good, and I tried to remain vigilant. I stuck this guy firmly, which was a good thing given his size, freshness, and propensity for hystrionics. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet was the unique problem we’d created by lengthening the leader. The position of the indicator on the leader system meant that I could only reel up so much line — not enough to lift the fish’s head to the net in a normal fashion. (I was using plastic Thingamabobber-type indicators because of the amount of weight, and those can be notoriously difficult to adjust, let alone in the middle of a battle with a steelhead.) To have a chance at landing the fish, I would need to navigate my way to the stern of the boat, reel the indicator to the rod tip, then lift the rod, arms completely extended over my head while trying to steer the fish to the front of the boat, where Jim would be waiting with the net. Easy enough with a skipper, but a challenge with a chrome buck like this. As you can see, we were successful! The first fish came on a Copperhead Stone. The second came on a small nymph called the Spider. Photo by James Kirtland.
I wish I was signaling that I’m currently engaged with my fifth steelhead of the day, but it’s just a simple “Hi, Mom!” Tuesday was substantially colder than Monday — temperatures never got above freezing — and wind and iced-up guides were a constant scourge. Because of the cold front, the fishing was noticeable slower, and the only touch I had all morning was a certainly foul-hooked fish that began to roar upstream with unbridled speed before suddenly coming off. I also re-discovered that it’s a really good idea to crimp those shot down tight on the leader, as once they start wandering along its length, casting becomes a chuck-and-duck nightmare. On the positive side, I’d like you to notice the angle of attack of the rod. I’ve got the tip low to the water and the fish is being fought off the reel and the butt section. To be hyper-critical, I should probably have the cork of the rod pointed more upstream. Don’t let them breathe, put the screws to them, and you’ll get ’em in fast. Speaking of hyper-critical, we witnessed a steelhead being played to death. The battle lasted well over 15 minutes (not an exaggeration) and may have pushed past 20. You bet that it featured plenty of high sticking and long stretches of the steelhead holding in the current without reel handle being cranked. Inexcusable. Video still by James Kirtland.
Victory is mine. After my success the day before with black and copper nymphs, and little to show for it today, I tied on a fluorescent chartreuse Crystal Meth, and boom! Sometimes you get lucky. I was right on this fish with my hook set, but I dropped one a few minutes later when I was slow on the draw. So, 1-for-3 on the day, which isn’t great, but all I need is one steelhead to make me happy. Photo by James Kirtland.

NY steelhead report March 16 & 17: Why I don’t go to casinos

It has nothing to do with the current public health crisis. It has nothing to do with planning (I go when I’m able to). It’s simply this: the days I go will be the wrong days. Period. Bad luck? We’re talking gargantuan, steaming piles of elephant dung luck. At least that’s the way it’s been the last few trips.

For ten minutes in early November, I was warm. (Yes, it was as cold as it looks.)

Seventeendegrees

To wit: last November. Good conditions. People are catching. I arrive the moment a major cold front comes through and witness the bite stop in its tracks. The next day, blank. And miserably cold. The next day, one steelhead. Even colder. Big picture: the cold front turns into a long-lasting pattern. It not only kills the bite but the entire migration. So when I go later in the month, I feel like king of the world when I manage one steelhead over two days.

Which brings us to my trip last week with Gordo.

What a shock! We started the trip as a high pressure cold front settled in. Ice in the guides until 1pm. We floated from Altmar to Pineville and saw five fish landed all day. (We had three of them.) I suppose that’s reason to smile. My steelhead came on an old Salmon River favorite, the Copperhead Stone.

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Day two: crik stompin’. The fish were there. They just didn’t want to eat. Not even egg sacks. Gordo and Jim each hooked and quickly dropped a few — that’s how subtle and non-committal the takes were. I managed one lonely domestic rainbow. Did I mention that it was cold and wet and miserable? (Sigh…) Big moment: this was Gordo’s first time in waders walking a stream. He did a tremendous job.

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Today we are thankful for right-of-ways.

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We finished up at a very mysterious deep hole with only room for one. So Gordo bounced his implements of destruction along the bottom of the maelstrom. Even though he’s using a spinning rod, the technique is very tight-line nymphing. Again, there were a few takes, but sadly no firm commitments.

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So, two cold days of terrible action. Or maybe this: I got to go steelheading with my son. I wasn’t working. I had my first cigars since Christmas. I landed a steelhead. We were outside and free and fishing.

Pretty lucky, Steve.

 

 

 

Best of 2018 #2: Birthday Steelhead

Every once is a while, the steelhead gods remind you that they really aren’t out to get you. Planets align, good karma rules, and all is right with the chrome world. This year’s birthday steelhead trip was such moment. Sure, one day of skunk, but bookended by a great day on the creeks and an even better one — my birthday — on the Salmon. Not a bad thing to wish for when you’re blowing out the candles.

Skunk’s off early on day one. Brilliant even in the pale light of a cloudy dawn.

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The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades. Whoops! Then it rained, and the next day was a cold, wet blank. Not worry. Good times coming.

UJP

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Every dog has his day. I’d rather be lucky than good. Whatever the bromide,┬áit’s some kind of wonderful when you’re the guy in the pool who’s making everyone else wonder what he did to deserve hooking steelhead after steelhead. One of my best days ever on the Salmon, and thanks again to everyone who lent a landing net hand and so kindly shared water.

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The best flies for steelhead are…

…the ones you have the most confidence in.

Here’s a batch of such steelhead flies, along with a few new ones to place into the rotation. I love the ritual of fly box replenishment. So much potential glory stuck into wine corks.

All that’s needed now are some waiting and willing mouths.

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