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The Fisherman

Fishing Like General MacArthur: Three Days On The Salmon

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It was Steelhead essayist Bob Arnold who put it so eloquently: "A steelheader is often beaten by his favorite stream, but does not damn it to eternity or go elsewhere."

 

I know what he means. After all, I had spent two frigid days standing in 33 degree Salmon River water last December, the first day without so much as a courtesy tap, the second with three strikes and three steelhead that were dropped almost as quickly as you could say, "fish on!"

 

Not a good mojo to sit with for ten months. But here we are in November of 2011, and like Douglas MacArthur, I have returned, along with five of my friends.

 

Bob, Z and me made the trek on Friday night. We decided to trade crowds for solitude, so Saturday morning found us on a brisk 20-minute hike though the pre-dawn woods. It was cold that morning -- frost everywhere, and ice in our guides well past 9am. The bite was likewise frosty. The good news was that save for an occasional drift boat, we had the whole place to ourselves for nearly eight hours. Not a bad place to be.

 

Frosty the Sapling. Pretty cold Saturday morning, although it eventually warmed up enough to peel off a layer.

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The spot we were fishing is formed by an island that neatly bisects the river. On one side, you have an intimate, wooded setting that is quite small stream-like. The other side is the big, brawling Salmon River in microcosm, with swift currents and deep, dark, mysterious holes. I decided to split my time between the two spots, and while Bob and Z were scoring lots of hookups in the bigger water, I couldn't buy a strike. Luckily, the smaller channel was my friend, and I managed to go two-for-two, with one of the fish a silvery slab of 34". A nifty little battle in some smaller water. On another positive note, I was testing out a new leader and yarn indicator system that was working quite nicely. I could easily discern the little tick-tick-ticks of the bottom from the little nudges that just might be a take. I wore my rig on my head and shoulders several times each day, but a false positive is exciting in its own anti-climatic way.

 

Bob managed his own slabs in the form of a King Salmon and steelhead that is best described in the photo below.

 

Bob's Big 'Un

coffee run (man does not live by steelhead alone) while the rest of the group went to claim a spot. Options A and B were already on lockdown, although Bob found some water to his liking above Option B, and there he stayed while Jon and Todd and Bill staked out some prime real estate downstream. Todd hooked up on one of his first casts, but sadly that was not a harbinger of things to come. A fish here, a fish there...well, that

 

By 10am were were ready to move. We split up into two groups, Todd and Jon, and Z, Bill and myself. Our posse went a ways upstream, were Option A was still on lockdown, but they were getting into fish. We took position above the hole, hoping the fish would wind their way past us. Bill got into an impressive steelhead, but ran afoul of an anchored drift boat and what seemed like an unsympathetic crowd downstream. As morning turned to afternoon, we still weren't getting into fish, and a mini funk descended upon us. Todd and Jon, and eventually Bob joined us; it was a pretty slow day all around. I took the last steelhead of the day around 3:30pm. Hope springs eternal, but Bob and Z and I had only one more day to make it count.

 

Why is this man smiling? It's the first strike he's had in six hours. My favorite fish of the trip.

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Monday morning, 5am. Z and me off to get a sack of breakfast sandwiches and the rest of the gang away to lock down a spot. Success! It was raw and damp and cloudy and dank, but Jon hooked up on one of his first casts, and landed it straight away, a big, beautiful fresh steelhead. A few casts later, my indicator shuddered and stalled, I set the hook, and off we went to the races. Another good steelhead, my first on the Steelhead William. (I test drove a bunch of new steelhead flies this trip, and gave several more out to the guys to try. The steelhead generally said yes.) Two more followed in the next 90 minutes, and I had visions of an epic day. 'Twas not to be. Those were my last touches of the trip.

 

Took two on this fly, the Steelhead William, one of three flies I created in my sons' names.

http://www.flyaddict.com/gallery/data/507/medium/SteelheadWilliam.JPG]

 

The Bob-Z Twins. Bob and Steve Z make their way through the great smoky waters of the Salmon at sunrise.

http://www.flyaddict.com/gallery/data/514/medium/Bob:Z.JPG' alt='Bob:Z.JPG'>

 

Todd took one on the swing mid-morning on a ESL which was exhilarating for him as well for those of us who watched the battle. I had the privelige of standing next to Bob after he dropped his second consecutive fish; rarely does one get to hear such colorful language delivered with such fierce conviction.

 

A bunch of fish pushed through after lunch. Picture five of us standing in a row. If you were at the top of the run (Bill) or the bottom (Bob) you hooked two fish. If you were one of the three in the middle, not so much as a sniff. Interesting how that works out, and yet another reminder to me to save my dollar and not bother with the lottery.

 

Steelheading is a funny business. On the drive home, I felt a little disappointed at having only hooked eight fish over three days. (Heck, Steve Z hooked seven in the first day alone.) But, I managed to land six of those fish, a pretty good batting average. And then I remembered another thing Bob Arnold wrote, about how he is, "supremely grateful for every steelhead I hook and do not require a great number of them in a day or a season to make me happy." Amen, Brother Bob. I want to be more like you.

 

In the end, this kind of fishing isn't so much about numbers as it is about gleeful anticipation, patience, boredom, crushing lows, and most of all those insanely exhilarating highs. Together, it's what keeps us coming back for more.

 

Yes. We shall return.

 

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Great read and pics Steve ! I guess William has bragging rights in the house for now lol. If your sons are anything like mine he would be sure to point that out at any mention of fishing.

I.m heading to the Erie tribs next Fri. for 3 days will post a report.

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Thanks all.

 

Saturday AM we weren't near anyone all day. The only people we saw were those in the drift boats and one wader about 100 yards above us.

 

I'm going back soon on a day trip. Steelhead madness engulfs me.

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Please do. :-)

 

I created another series of flies that I had the guys test drive. Sadly, many of them found only the bottom, but the few that didn't found willing mouths, and some big ones at that. Another kind of SSS (Simple, Sweet, Seductive) fly. I'll share those patterns in the near future.

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