Friday, November 23, 2012

The Salmon River: A Trip Report (Part Four)

Day four. The final 24 hours of our annual steelhead bender. Shawn and Mike had quit the day before, and when my alarm sounded at 3 a.m., I woke hoping the boys hadn't taken our luck with them when they left. Our plan was to get Milo into fish; seventy years on this Earth and the man had never hooked a steelhead. Tragedy of tragedies.

The plan was simple: plant Ben's father in what is arguably the most prolific run on the river, give him the right fly and a reasonable chance to learn the drift, and defend the man from the inevitable low-holers and dog walkers who would try to crawl into the slot. The first part of the plan required us to be the only cars in the parking area at 4:00 in the morning, and while we were the first to arrive, little time passed before approaching headlights told us we needed to head down to the water.

The rabbit runs round the hill, through the loop, and ...

By 4:30 we had humped all of our gear a short distance to an equally short run that is - rather ironically - known as Old Farts. I can't say I'm entirely sure why this piece of water is named as it is; other sections seem more aptly named: Schoolhouse, Trestle, the Flats, Black Hole, Church Pool. Perhaps the run had been named for a group of aged gentleman who once frequented it currents. Perhaps Old Farts is a reference to the stench that hangs perpetually low and oppressive over the water: putrefying salmon, diesel fumes, and cigarette smoke. More likely, the run is named as such because it provides ridiculously easy access to some of the river's best fish and fishing. Old Farts may be the only run in the river where an angler - even a septuagenarian like Milo - can be absolutely sure of his footing as he fights steelhead that are both ridiculously big and scary fast. The process is usually only complicated by those fish that choose a long downstream run. If that happens we'll usually break off so as not to intrude on the folks fishing below us, unless - of course - the fish is exceptional.

As we hoped, the river gods were kind to Milo, and gave him the opportunity to tangle with some very respectable fish. Ben played the part of his father's guide, patiently explaining the mechanics of the run, showing Milo exactly where to place his fly (Milo's switch cast became increasingly accurate as the day went on), helping with fly changes, and otherwise doing what he could to get dad into fish. 

Here is Milo hooked up ... again ... moments before the fish throws the hook ... again.

Unfortunately, the river gods' generosity only goes so far, especially as it surrounds the newest of initiates. Milo hooked several fish over the course of the day. Every one of those fish would likely have scaled 10 pounds or more, but we'll never know for sure as we were not able to put even one into the net.

One of Milo's steelhead haunts me. The fish was an honest 14 or 15 pounds; for most bug chuckers she would have been the fish of a lifetime. As Milo played the thick bodied hen, I found myself whispering little prayers to whatever divinity chose to listen. Everyone wanted desperately for Milo to land that fish, everyone except the chuckleheads fishing just downstream of us.

On the last of its runs, Milo's best steelhead of the day tore off downstream but came ridiculously close to the near shore, perhaps only one or two feet off the boots of the group occupying the territory on that downstream flank. As I chased Big Bertha past the demilitarized zone, net in hand, I explained as I ran (by ran I mean that I was moving as quickly as my morbidly obese backstrap would carry me) to anyone listening that this could be Milo's first steelhead. "Pardon me ... excuse me," I kept repeating. "The old fella's hooked up on a slob - it could be his first fish in the net - and he can't get down here quickly enough to get his line and the fish out of your way."

"Mind if I step in with the net?"

No reply.

Again, "Mind if I step in with the net?"

Blank stares.

"Fish off."

Really? Really.

None of them moved. Not so much as a twitch. I'm fairly certain one of those boys actually stepped farther out into the water solely to complicate things. They had been trying to low hole us all day, and I am convinced their lack of cooperation was deliberate. For the life of me, I just do not understand the logic. They were hooking as many fish as were we. Could the grass really be any greener over our septic tank? Had they moved, I am certain I could have put that fish in the net. Modesty aside, I am generally surgical with a net.

This is what it looks like to get low-holed on the Salmon. On the right is Ben Jose: gentleman, fisherman, sometimes doberman. Only moments before he had been standing in the space on left, which is (in this photo) occupied by one of the river's many low-holing chuckleheads. Ben only moved to the right so as to extricate his fly from a snag. Barely two minutes. Barely a rod length. There you have it.
A consummate gentleman, Milo only smiled, and I am told - quietly whispered to his son that the fish he had just lost was the largest he had ever hooked in fresh water. I hope we can get him back on the water before the first real snowfall. 

As for the rest of us, we all caught fish. Adam brought in his best ever brown trout, and Bennie stung a couple of steelies. I was good for a few myself. Altogether, this year's trip will be remembered as one of the best if not for the fishing then certainly for the personalities involved. I am a lucky man for many reasons. I am blessed with a wonderfully understanding wife who abides my passion for the long rod, three beautiful children who love me without reservation, and friends who are every bit as passionate as am I about swift water and silver fish.

Thanks for a great trip guys.



Robin Hill said...

Fishing in that spot requires a certain amount of patience due to the DB factor that I don't know if I am in possession of. My hats off to you and your crew for hitting it and dealing with all that comes with it both the good (fishing) and the bad (DBags aka lowholers).

Flogging The Waters said...

Thanks for the posts. I liked what you had to say, it got me thinking about a few things before our trip, so I linked to your posts in my own Salmon trip report (hope you don't mind):