Salmon River Report 11/25-26: None. One. Are we still having fun?

For a guy who never plays at casinos, I manage to do an awful lot of gambling. Like planning my Salmon River, Pulaski, steelhead trips months in advance. As with Vegas, the odds always favor the house. Sometimes you win. More often, you lose — and lose big. My trip earlier in November brought me the double whammy of a sub-par steelhead run and an Arctic cold front. I felt lucky to escape with my dignity and fingertips intact, and the two steelhead I landed were a trip-saving bonus.

Two weeks later, here I was again. (See “Go, Weather or Not” in my Great Lakes Steelhead piece for Field & Stream.) Make that we, as this was the annual father-son November steelhead trip — facing moderate flows (350cfs, 500cfs at Pineville) but the same paucity of fish. (2019 was, according to my records, tied for the second worst year in the last ten in numbers of fish landed.)

There’s not much to tell you about Monday. We floated the middle river, as always with steelhead guide extraordinaire Row Jimmy, aka James Kirtland, but the vast majority of steelhead that had been there the previous few days had skedaddled. Not a single touch for me in over eight hours of carpet bombing the river bottom. Cam managed one brown, and Jimmy rolled a steelhead that was quickly off. Here, Cam reflects upon the errors or our ways while considering the merit of Stefano’s garlic knots. 

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The command decision was made to float the upper river on Tuesday. We enjoyed a gentlemen’s start at the civilized hour of 7:15am. Here’s Cam wrangling the Pavati at the Altmar boat launch. The anglers we spoke to at the bottom of the LFZ reported a slow beginning to the day.

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So, let’s change that up. Since we needed to let some boats ahead of us fish through, we parked the boat and Jim (did I mention he’s a guide extraordinaire?) pointed to some likely holding water. A bit of a treacherous wade, but manageable, and it wasn’t too long before I was rewarded with a dipping indicator and a thrumming sensation at the end of my line. The fishing quote of the year goes to Cam, who said, “Well, Dad, now you won’t be grouchy for the rest of the day!”

DaySaver

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I’d like to tell you that my fish was the start of something big, but ’twas not to be. We endured hours of the same non-existent action. So when Cam scored this handsome steelhead around noon, we decided that on this day (50 degrees and partly sunny to boot!) we’d beaten the house.

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Salmon River Steelhead Report 11/11-11/13: Mama Told Me (Not To Come)

Mothers can’t help but worry, and so it was with mine when I told her I was going steelheading during the first real cold snap of the season. Turns out she was only partially right.

Nothing kills the steelhead bite with more indifferent cruelty than a cold front. The fishing had been pretty good the few days and hours before we arrived — lots of steelhead, particularly in the upper end of the river, and fair enough weather and flows. By the time we waded in, things were already going south. (The irony will not be lost on those who recognize the cold front as a wanderer originating from the north.)

This was my first non-solo steelhead trip (other than with my sons) in years, as I had the company of the illustrious Peter Jenkins, owner of the Saltwater Edge in Newport, RI. If Jenks looks cold, he probably is. I know I was. The thing about a boat in winter is that there’s a pernicious, unexpected kind of cold — you’re not able to walk around, and if it’s windy you’re exposed to the gusts as they whip off the water.

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We hit the river with positive resolve at 2:30pm Monday, and although we gave it a good effort, no steelhead made it to the hoop. In fact, I didn’t have a single touch. Jenks had, at least, the excitement of a few takes. Timing is everything, though, and we clearly missed it (Sal from Legends on the Farmington was fishing across from us and reported many earlier fish to net from his group.)

Tuesday was float day with my friend James Kirtland of Row Jimmy Guide Service. There’s a technical description for the conditions we experienced — I think “shitty” is the term. We had snow and wind and cold, and let’s throw in a disaster bite for good measure. Jenks had a few touches, but no love on the hookups. My single take of the day produced a newly-minted coin of a skipper, and given the conditions, I took my 1-for-1 and ran with it.

So much depends upon a propane heater, glazed with snowflakes beside the white pizza box. (I love how often that poem lends itself to fishing situations.) Speaking of food, here’s a hot dining tip for those heading up to Pulaski: 11 North Bar & Grill. We visited on Taco Tuesday, and enjoyed three stuffed beefy tacos each for the grand total of $9. That’s not a misprint. Yummy wings, plus a good beer on tap list.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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We performed seemingly never-ending eyelet triage as the mercury never made it out of the 20s for the entire trip. Stuff like Loon Outdoors Stanley’s Ice-Off Paste works…for part of an hour, then it’s back to ice patrol. 

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And then, there was Wednesday. On the river early: 17 degrees. Off the water at 3pm: 19 degrees. Hookups up and down the line were few and far between, with landings even scarcer. And it was just plain suck-the-warmth-out-of-you cold. So when my indicator dipped, I was happy that I got a good, hard, downstream hookset. That’s breath coming out of my mouth, not cigar smoke. Please also appreciate the lake effect snow shower, and Jenks’ fine photography.

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I fouled one more, lost another to a tippet failure (had to have been nicked), and had a couple of bumps that never resulted in a tight line. But any day you can land a steelhead is a good day. And from the look on the angler’s face, regardless of the weather, that is the way to have fun, son.

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Steelhead Report 12/5/14: Neither here nor there

You get two kinds of steelhead reports.

The first is celebratory. The bite was on, the hookups plentiful, and the giddy recollections make you wish it was you who had written them. Such reports are usually accompanied by multiple grip-and-grins, or artistic renderings of gleaming flanks, spotted tails, and hook-and-Estaz neatly secured in mouth.

The second focuses on the friends you fished with, or the solitude you basked in, but most of all the glory of just being there. Umm, the fishing was slow. What else is there to write about?

No matter which end of the spectrum your trip falls into, the truth always lies somewhere between the two. Yes, there is no other rush in fishing that compares to the knowledge that the bellicose, cartwheeling silver machine you’ve been dancing with is going to be in your hands in a matter of moments. And yes, it is glorious just to be there. (You cannot, after all, catch a steelhead in Connecticut.)

Here’s my somewhere-in-the-middle from Friday.

Morning. I had planned to fish one of the nearby creeks, but the water was falling too fast for my liking. So I explored some of the diversions below Altmar. Friends, I covered water to the point of excessive thoroughness. I moved around. I gave the steelhead a choice. Nothing. Whatever was there, it wasn’t eating what I was throwing. I spent the first three hours picking ice out of my guides and trying to coax my fingertips into a functional setting. At least I had my pick of spots. By 11am, though, I’d had enough.

It wasn’t cold by Pulaski standards, but it was cold enough to make crystal lily pads. IMG_2619

Afternoon. From the start, I viewed this as a bonus trip. After my wildly successful November, I was playing with house money. So I decided to head downriver, instead of up to where the heavier concentrations of steelhead (and anglers) would likely be. If I had to do it over again, I probably would have chosen both.

I learned that some of the places I can cross the river at 1,000cfs are far more challenging at 1,400cfs — even with a wading staff — and still others are plain impassable. That limited my choices here. Run A was a blank. Run B produced my only steelhead action of the day. I kicked it. Asleep at the switch. By the time I realized the bottom was a steelhead, it was  swimming indifferently downstream, never to be seen again. (I am working on an algebraic proof that states: after the 499 good drifts you make, eyes keenly focused on the indicator, reaction potential equal to a cobra’s, looking for an excuse to set the hook, the one take you get will come on the 500th when your senses are taking a nap.)

Run C was dark and deep and surely held a few fish fresh from the lake. Or not. Run D was formed by a perilous conglomeration of deadfall. I waded out between logs, stripping out line, trying to decide where to cast. I was already a little annoyed by the missed opportunity (and lack of others). So when my fly got snagged on one of the submerged logs before I could even make a cast, I angrily tried to snatch it back. Thrummm! Asleep at the switch again, only this time the fish was hooked. Not a steelhead — that was abundantly clear from the non-hysterical headshakes. Good thing, too, because with all the barriers and overhangs, there was zero chance of landing something chrome. But I will take a 20″ brown trout over the skunk any time.

Lousy picture. Decent brown. Incredible luck. IMG_2642

Run E appeared to have potential, but after 45 minutes it remained unrealized. So I went back to the dropped steelhead location well, in hopes of a repeat. Hopes were dashed. At 3:15pm, with over eight hours of hard fishing in the books and lake-effect sleet bouncing off my hood, I began the hike back to the truck.

I tell you, it was really great just being there.

Christmas tree, Pulaski style. IMG_2628