Monday, October 14, 2013


There used to be a time when the winter months meant ever worsening cabin fever - when piscatorial pursuits were put on hold until the snow and ice made way for the first of April. The opening day of New York's trout season was the light at the end of a dark and fishless tunnel; the weeks which preceded the opener were always filled with a flurry of activity: cleaning lines, patching waders, oiling reels, and tying flies. Opening day meant anticipation. Opening day meant hope.

Then we rediscovered steelhead, and everything changed.

Opening day is not the spectacle it once was. We no longer pine for the first of April because the winter months no longer hang heavy on our hearts. Rather, we look forward to the opener in much the same way we anticipate the hendricksons, sulphurs or summer drake hatch. Opening day is just one of many in a long series of opportunities.

The first reports came in some six or seven weeks ago. King salmon were staging in the estuary; a few had even strayed into the lower end of the river. With these early reports were whispers - hints that perhaps a trout or two had come in with the salmon, but that was late August and early September. Finding a steelhead so early in the season is akin to finding treasure in Al Capone's forgotten vault, not that we didn't try.

Now it's October - a month filled with opportunity. Salmon have been streaming into the system. Kings and cohos are racing upriver, but they're no longer content to travel singly or in pairs. They come with urgency and by the dozen, and what were quiet whispers of trout are now exclamations of steelhead. They're coming too - in ever increasing numbers. They know it's October.

There's something truly extraordinary about October steelhead; something that gets the blood pumping in a way only skydiving, swimming with sharks, and near-fatal traffic accidents get the blood pumping. If steelhead are speed - and they are - then October steelhead are quicksilver. They're angry lightening from the heights of Olympus. They're the meth addicts of the piscatorial universe: deceptive, unpredictable, and biochemically inclined toward violence.

So as I sit here typing - pining for my next trip to the river - I find myself thinking that October is the new April. I suppose it's ironic. Once upon a time, the opening day of trout season was the highlight of the year, the day to which all other days were compared. Now, it's the close of trout season that gets most of my attention. God help me, but I love October.

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