Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Salmon River: A Trip Report (Part Three)

Day three marked a turning point in the trip. Once again we were out of the rack by 3:00 a.m., breakfast was another two dozen eggs (chickens hate us) - this time with a side of sausage (from pigs raised by one of our group, Mike Healy). As soon as we donned our waders and stepped outside the cabin door, we could feel change in the air. Each of us remarked on it. This was going to be the day; we knew it from the outset. For the first time in three days, we were genuinely hopeful (and hope arrived just in time as Shawn and Mike were slated to leave before the end of the day).

Perhaps because we sensed the change, perhaps because we're gluttons for punishment, or maybe because we're simple minded chuckleheads - we decided to revisit the run we had been fishing for two days. To a certain extent, fishing this particular run has become something of a tradition - we get together in November, and we fish this one piece of water. Even more than giving a nod to tradition, however, we were convinced that the fish were there. We only needed for things to heat up and turn on.

As it happened, things did heat up - both literally and metaphorically. Day three witnessed a dramatic change in the weather. The cold front that had been so persistent throughout days one and two finally gave way to weather that was downright balmy by comparison. Whereas the high temperature over the first two days might have scraped the low side of 40 degrees, by the afternoon of day three the air temp had exceeded 60 degrees, and the fish responded.

Everyone hooked fish that third day. At one point, we had hooked so many on the swing, I remember thinking that fishing with the long rod should always be so easy. If the fishing was easy, the catching remained difficult for just a while longer. By mid-morning I had jumped three solid fish, and as they did the day before, each came unglued. As if to rub a little salt in the wound, Brillon's third swung-up steelhead came - once again - to a generic Popsicle style fly in purple and black. Black over purple was the color combination all week long.  

Bug chuckers are a funny bunch. We love our friends; really, we do. We want to see them be successful, and we want to share in that success. We chase their fish with our nets. We photograph their catch, and post the pictures on our blogs. We do this - not because we expect our friends to reciprocate - but because they are our friends, and we love them. But love isn't enough - is it - to take the sting out of a friend's high rod?

While I was happy to see Shawn hook the fish he did, I have to admit that the last one stung just a bit. At the point in the morning when I looked upstream, and watched Shawn's rod buck in synchronized rhythm with the desperate antics of yet another steelhead, I was on the verge of piscatorially induced hara-kiri. I had jumped three fish and had at least two other pulls (maybe three but one might have been that snag that pulls back - you know the one). Yes, when Shawn hooked that last fish ... it hurt.

But the river gods weren't intent on my continued suffering. After a disappointing skunk on the second day and an early morning that saw several fish released at an unacceptable distance, I finally stuck one with which I managed to stay connected. That one fish was all I needed; anything else was gravy.

And there was gravy, but the details aren't of any real consequence. Suffice to say we did well on day three. Shortly after noon, Healy and Brillon decided to call it a day, packed their things, and said their goodbyes. Just before they left, Ben and I were joined by Adam and Ben's father, Milo - both of whom were eager to wet a line. Much planning and attention had been given over Milo's time on the water as he had never hooked a steelhead.

Milo Jose first cast a fly rod some fifty odd years ago. To hear him tell it, he had been rather successful as a young man growing up in Idaho's corner of the Rockies, but his most memorable fish were all caught in San Francisco Bay on conventional tackle and hardware. He didn't quite know what to make of the 11' rod we put in his hands, and our first afternoon on the water was spent teaching Milo a basic switch cast. He was a quick study. After an hour or so of practice, Milo felt his first sign of life at the end of the line.

To Be Continued

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