Steelhead report: Wreck of the Old 97

Number Three Son Gordo and I fished the Salmon River for two days last week and it was a slow bite. Conditions were about a s good as you could expect for this time of year: 875cfs at the Pineville gauge and clear water. Monday was in the teens to start and it never got above freezing. Tuesday was another frosty launch, but we were in the mid thirties by noon. This was a float trip with my guide friend James Kirtland, aka Row Jimmy. We did the mid-river run (Pineville to 2A) both days. I was happy with this as every boat we spoke to coming down from Altmar described crowded shore and drift conditions with a nearly non-existent bite. So if the fishing’s going to be slow, I’d rather be mostly alone.

Monday. The plan was to cherry-picked marks that had recently produced. The first was a blank. The second provided a classic “Life isn’t fair. Neither is steelheading.” moment. I had drifted through a patch a half dozen times in the previous hour and the indicator had gone under every time due to a shallow. On the seventh time it was a fish, and I nonchalanted the hook set. Fish on, briefly, then off. Operator error.

In the afternoon, we spent some time picking pockets and seams and Gordo was rewarded with a standard-issue dark horse buck. Skunk’s off for the boat, and that always feels good. Sadly, nothing for me, although I do have to say that my precision casting game was on.
Holy chrome hen, Batman! I missed my shot as I was rigging up while the guys were covering water. Jim hooked it, Gordo landed it, and we were all blinded by light. About a half hour after this, my indicator dipped, and I set the hook. The line screamed upstream at a breakneck pace, then went limp. Clearly, that was a fouled fish. It was also our last touch of the day.

Tuesday. We expected this to be a better day, since the temperature would be rising and we now knew where there were pods of fish. As it so often happens, just when you think you’ve figured it out, nature smacks you upside the head. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Move the boat. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Finally, I hook into a good-sized dark horse buck, somewhere in between the size of the two fish pictured above. He realizes he’s hooked, runs, and leaps. I regain line. He runs again, and leaps two more times. But I can feel that that was his last big run. I’m not letting him breathe, cranking that reel handle. This will be steelhead number 98. And then, he’s gone. I look at Jim. Jim looks at me. We both opine that this was simply a case of bad luck: fast hookset, hard hookset, well-played. What else can you do? And that, ladies and gents, was our only touch of the day. It really is a cruel sport sometimes.

Where baby stoneflies come from. These early black stones, size 16-18, were all over the place. It may have been a function of lack of steelhead, but I didn’t have any takes on stonefly/natural color/soft-hackled patterns. We also saw midges (very tiny).
I got to visit an old friend on Tuesday. This little slice of heaven didn’t produce any action, and it was a hard hoof through the snow, but it was worth the few minutes we got to spend together. And so, dear reader, I remain stuck at 97 steelhead landed. Better times are surely coming. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.