You would think a fishless five months would alter your perspectives towards some aspects of the pursuit of fish with a fly rod. If it did for me, those alterations occurred in how I daydreamed about it.
As I stepped into the 33 degree water of the Salmon River with my brother leading the way, Adam close behind and a great friend along for his first experience, there wasn’t much else I was aware of beyond the silently falling snow, the pull of the river on my legs and a general feeling of contentment.
Pulaski, NY in late December could not be more different from the East African coast if it were populated by martians. The snow-laden pines and the sounds of the river made the dusty, chaotic and drowningly humid city fade so quickly in my memory that I wondered if I’d ever been there at all.
I claimed that any bend in the rod would suffice, but I was happy enough just being there.
Along for the ride was Parry, a best mate for some 15 years who had somehow avoided a fishing trip with us up to this point. He grew a fine steelheader’s beard for the occasion, and was as game as could be.
After posting up in some prime real-estate, Adam told Parry that he could have the first 60 casts into the hole. While Parry struggled to make his first cast, Adam dropped in one dead drift and hooked up with maybe the largest steelhead of his life to date. The day was 15 minuted old and Adam had his screamer buck.
In the act of demonstrating the proper mend for a dead drift, Mark hooked up with Parry’s rod, and gave it to him to practice playing a fish for when it would really count. The small fish was dropping eggs in the net, and quickly released.
The morning then slowed down and we all settled into the zen trance of willing an indicator to drift dead. The fish were not going to move far for a meal on this day.
On the hike back to the truck to move downstream, Mark pulled up for one cast into a deep swirling eddy just offshore. He hooked up with what at first felt like a small resident fish, but gave its size away on its first leap. Another screamer.
The fat fish was netted and it was Parry’s turn in the confusing eddy.
Under Mark and Adam’s close watch and encouragement, he hooked something for a brief moment, until the tippet broke as Parry misplayed it. Adam’s turn.
We all knew what was about to happen. We felt it. He hooked up almost immediately. The fish didn’t jump or run. Adam said it felt pretty weird.
I was ready just downstream with the net a few minutes later, when the fish rose and slashed. Mark and I thought ‘monster brown’ at the same moment and yelled it out, but it was just the stained water and coloration that threw us off.
The fish was actually a monster steelhead. The largest any of us had ever seen in person.
As I slipped the net under the fish, we were laughing and hooting and hollering and marveling at a fish that might have survived 4 years of the crowds on the Salmon river to meet us on that afternoon. It was awesome.
Parry was up again, and he hooked up with a good fish that he played well. We brought it to hand and everyone was very happy.
I was up again and hooked up with a fish that popped off after a few minutes. It was my first fight in 5 months.
Adam again, with predictable results and another of the largest steelhead he’d ever caught. It was an insane few hours spent at that one hole on the river that my brother had thankfully decided to quickly probe with an egg pattern.
As the afternoon drew to a close, I landed my first fish since July. It was small, had only one nub for a pectoral fin, and may or may not have been hooked just outside of the mouth, but I’ll take it. I was happy.
Changing in the parking lot, we tried to explain to Parry that today was as outlier, not your typical day fishing for Great Lakes steelhead in late December, but we hoped aloud that the fish would stay cooperative for the next day, and the day after.