Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Salmon River (A Trip Report): Day One - Boon

Sometimes the best part of a fishing trip happens well before an angler ever steps into the water. The preparation - tying flies, checking knots, patching waders, and mapping routes and destinations - is part and parcel of the hopeful anticipation that characterizes the bug chucking persona. We spend the days and weeks prior to our trip in a prolonged daze. We dream adrenaline fueled dreams of what might be, but oftentimes the reality does not match our hopeful expectations. That's not to say we're disappointed. Rarely if ever do we come back from a fishing trip without smiles on our faces, but more often than not the what was is hopelessly eclipsed by the what could have been. All of this brings us to Wednesday of last week. 

Every November, the boys and I make our annual foray to the Salmon River in New York; the trip is one of many we each make to the river individually, but usually the only one we make as a group. We come not for those fish that share the river's namesake but rather the steelhead that entered the river behind the salmon; brilliant fish that are intent on a feast of decomposing flesh and eggs. By late November the great majority of kings and cohos have expired, and thousands of steelhead remain. These are the fish that fuel our dreams, and last Wednesday was our first day on the water.

Our plan for Hump Day had been made months before the alarm rang at two o'clock that morning. Ben's father was to join us as he had last November, and we were determined to make this year more successful. Milo hooked several large fish - including one of particularly grotesque proportions - on that last trip, but his young buck guides just couldn't manage a single chromer in the net. This year was to be Milo's redemption; we guides made sure to brush up on our net skills, checked and rechecked all our knots, and tied hundreds of the flies we thought might bring Ben's dad some luck. Unfortunately, life is no respecter of fishermen and their steelhead dreams, and this year life threw Milo a bit of a curve ball. Ben's father was forced to back out of the trip at the last moment, and the rest of us scrambled to rearrange our first day.

Ultimately, we decided to stay with our original plan for the early part of the morning, and began at the Lower Fly Zone where we were joined by several dozen of our very best friends. If you've fished the LFZ then you get the joke. In November, this stretch of river is packed with steelhead like Toys-R-Us is packed with soccer moms on Black Friday, and where there are so many fish there is sure to be a corresponding number of anglers. There are some cracks where one or two bug chuckers might grab a small piece of water and expect to be relatively unmolested for the better part of the day; because we arrived well before most other anglers were even out of bed, we were able to slide into one of these sequestered - if not secluded - spots. Before long, however, we spotted little dots of light - other anglers' headlamps - bouncing along the trails on either bank of the river. I was reminded of History Channel video I've seen of the Viet Cong moving supplies along the Ho Chi Minh trail.

As the sun came up over the treeline we realized that we had chosen poorly. We were surrounded by at least fifty other anglers, and with half of our party intent on swinging flies, there was no way we could bear to stay very long.  

In the short time we remained there were fish to be had, and while everyone in our party hooked up with relative ease, the nature of such fishing quickly became tedious. Our proximity to other anglers - many of whom were clearly lifting and snagging fish - prompted us to pack up after just a few hours and find a piece of water that wasn't being quite so rankly abused. On a lark, we drove to the Upper Fly Zone to check on a run that was tailor made by God, Nature, and Brookfield Renewable Power (the company that owns the Lighthouse Hill Dam from which the Salmon River flows) for bug chuckers who like to catch steelhead on the swing.

I won't go into too many details, but suffice to say we finished the evening on a happier note than we began the day. There were plenty of fish in the run, a few of them were eager to chase the big stuff, and those bug chuckers who happened upon us generally left us alone to do our thing. We met another angler who asked to rotate the run with us, and as enjoyable as was my conversation with Tom - I was happier to have met his dog. Copper was the most stick-fetchinest pup with whom I've ever become acquainted. I tried desperately to take a photo, but every time I picked up my camera Copper sniffed the lens - leaving little streaks of dog drool across the glass. Camera shy I guess.

Photo: Ben Jose

As the evening wore on, a couple of the boys wandered off to find an open slot to nymph. When they returned we decided to call it a day. We were exhausted and satisfied. Slowly we walked back to the lot and made the bleary-eyed drive to the cabin that would be our home for the next five days. After showers, unpacking, and a meal comprised almost entirely of useless carbohydrates (read: beer and pasta) we agreed to a later than normal wake up. For my part, I fell asleep filled with the hopeful anticipation that always precedes another day on the water.  

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