Monday, November 19, 2012

The Salmon River: A Trip Report (Part Two)


Day one left us exhausted and tripping over ourselves as we made our way back to the cabin and up the stairway to our room.We stripped off waders, shimmied out of double thick socks and triple layered thermals, took our showers, and swallowed bowls of seafood chowder. Sleep came quickly, and so too did the following morning.

The alarm sounded at 2:30 - a less than soft serenade courtesy of Google Play and The Dropkick Murphys - I stumbled to the kitchen and started on making breakfast for everyone: eighteen jumbo, grade A eggs and a pot of organic, free trade, wake-the-flock-up coffee. After rubbing the sleep out of our eyes and prepping our gear, we were out the door, into the frosty morning, and on our way to the same run we had fished throughout the previous day.

Our logic for revisiting that piece water was simple: the run is usually loaded with fish and fishermen, but yesterday we saw few other anglers. Absent the occasional wanderer, we had one of the best runs on the river almost entirely to ourselves. We only hooked a few fish, but we were chalking that up to an obstinate cold-front that reportedly had the fish down throughout the length of the river.  We knew the run would break open eventually, and we wanted to be there when it did. So, there we were on day two, in precisely the same spot we had been the day before, staring - headlamps ablaze - into precisely the same fly boxes, hoping for just a little more magic. What is they say about bug chuckers who do the same thing over and over again, each time expecting a different result?

Photo: Mike Healy
As tough as was day one, day two was that much tougher. A bitterly cold wind came west off the big lake, and traveled - so it seemed - up 16 miles of river valley to the very run we were fishing. That wind stayed with us throughout the majority of the day. Accompanying the wind were any number of anglers, most of whom were kind enough - or perhaps sensible enough - to limit themselves to the extremities of the run. A few stragglers tried to wedge their way into the mix, but for the most part the other bug chuckers we encountered we very courteous, and we did our best to reciprocate. 

Ben was once again the first to move a fish, although he wasn't blessed with a solid hookup. The steelhead - what appeared to be a chromer in excess of 12 pounds - moved to a Wiggle Minnow of all things. The fish slammed the gyrating foam bug as it swam just inches below the surface. Crashing the fly, the steelhead made a vicious boil, and for a brief moment Ben had the attention of everyone on the run. When the whole episode was over, I found myself thinking how swinging a Wiggle Minnow to steelhead would rankle the sensibilities of more traditionally minded bug chuckers. To steal a phrase from my more digitally savvy students ... I laughed out loud.

Shawn was next to sting a fish, and as he did the previous day he quickly guided the outsized trout to a waiting net. This beautifully colored up buck wasn't the biggest of the trip, but he may have been the most photogenic. After a few photos and a fist bump or two, the fish was back in the water with one heck of a story to tell his piscatorial pals, but otherwise no worse for wear.

Bennie's next hookup was the one - THE ONE - he had been hoping for since he started steelheading some three or four years ago. He had done much to prepare: purchased a spey rod and matching line, loaded up with poly leaders and tungsten impregnated tips, worked on his knots, and even tied a few spey flies. He was fishing the bottom end of the run when the fish pounced on his chartreuse and purple intruder. After watching the steelhead's enthusiastic acrobatics I had the privilege of wrapping her up in the net, and snapping a photo to commemorate Ben's first steelhead on the swing. 

First steelhead on a swung fly ... the beard hides the smile
Mike Healy and I were very badly blanked on the second day; I wish I had something better to report, but wishing doesn't make it happen. We each had pulls from seemingly solid fish, but even when we managed to hook up, the result was ... less than ideal.

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