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The Fisherman

Ontario Tribs: You Don't Know If You Don't Go

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One of the magnetic pulls of being a steelheader five hours away from the closest action is the time-space continuum. That is, it’s just far enough to make regular trips impossible (we want even more what we can’t have). And it’s close enough to make the odd solo run very doable (I can, so I will.)

 

I can’t speak for others, but I spend an unhealthy amount of time planning fictitious steelheading trips that I have no chance of making – it’s too far, I can’t get a sitter for the kids, it costs too much/I’m broke, I have too much work to do, there’s a cold front coming through, my wife will murder me in my sleep after I tell her I’m going – and virtually the same amount of energy making such trips a reality. Because for all the logical arguments against making a solo day trip, the best case for doing it is flawlessly logical: no one ever caught a steelhead sitting behind a desk in Middletown, CT.

 

Women get a bad rap for being indecisive about what to wear. Steelheaders are probably worse when it comes to deciding where to fish. I spent a considerable amount of time wrassling with this in my head on the drive up. It felt good when I finally settled on the Pineville area of the Salmon. Then two things happened that screwed it all up.

 

The first was an email I got from Jim Kirtland. Jim is the guide I tossed a cigar to as he floated past me a few weeks ago. Jim (aka Row Jimmy) told me to give him a shout next time I came up for some intel. He suggested that with the recent 1K flows and time of year there would be a bazillion fish in the Altmar area. This was confirmed by the owner of the lodge I was staying at, who said that things had drastically slowed downstream in the last week. So I decided that I would heed the local advice and fish where the fish are.

 

When I got there at 6:45am, there were already a few people on the water, but by 7:15 it was starting to look like “Occupy Altmar.” A row of anglers stretched downstream, with several boats in the mix. Yes, I wanted to catch fish, but I just wasn’t willing to pay that crowded price of admission. Making a solo run and not catching is bearable. Making a solo run and being miserable is not.

 

I was trudging back to my Jeep to develop Plan B when a voice called out, “Hey, Steve!” It was Jim. Turns out he was meeting a friend and they were going to head north and fish some smaller tribs. Um, well, I’m not really into the scene here – could I tag along with them? You betcha. Nice! When would I get a chance like this again?

 

The stream we fished was far more intimate than the big, brawling Salmon. Aside from the size difference, the water also had a seductive gray-green hue to it. Lots of deep pockets, buzz-saw riffles, and tantalizing runs to explore. It was a few degrees warmer than the Salmon. Best of all, there was only one other person fishing it. I liked it right away.

 

Things started off slowly for me. Over a couple hours, Jim and his friend each hooked and landed two. These steelhead were unlike any I had ever seen in person. Silvery flanks that dissolved into a greenish dorsal, peppered with inky black spots. They leapt like their brethren to the south, but there was something about them that was unique and wonderful and shiny and new.

 

Still, no fish for me made me depressed. Especially after I flogged this one very promising stretch for a half hour – then Jim came hooked up five minutes after I left it. I was beginning to think that yes, it was my turn to have one of those days. I consoled myself with the fact that I now had some new water under my belt. Nice try, but didn’t really work.

 

By 11am, I had had enough. I bid farewell to the group and made my way to the Jeep.

 

And there it was. That really sexy run with some gnarly rapids above it and the bottomless plunge pool below it. Now vacant and waiting for someone to fish it. The water was far closer to a running pace than a walking one, and laden with waves that belied an uneven bottom. On my tenth cast, my yarn indicator was immediately sucked beneath the surface, just as it had done several times before. Only this time, the current and chop wasn’t the culprit.

 

The steelhead felt the hook point drive home, turned upstream, and blasted out of the water, throwing a cartwheel into the mix for good measure. Now she sounded and moved downstream toward a waterfall. No, no, no – that won’t do at all. I wanted to keep the fight in that pool, and so I put a little more pressure on the fish than I thought was wise. Usually bulling a steelhead is a death warrant for landing it, but for some reason the fish decided to cooperate. I got her to the bank faster than I had ever done with any steelhead before. What a beautiful fish. Twenty-two inches and rotund. And still with plenty of fight left, for when I went to get my camera out, she thrashed once, twice, and despite my desperation attempt to corral her, sped off for the refuge of the deeper water.

 

Well, I thought, that’s this trip bought and paid for.

 

I spent the afternoon back at the Salmon, exploring a favorite stretch in the interest of science. I wanted to see how things looked at 1,100cfs, and wondered if I could even wade it. 700cfs difference of water makes the river an entirely new dish, yet it retains much of its original flavor. Where I walked on bleached rock three weeks ago was now submerged, but the current dynamics were basically the same. There was a lot more transition water between bank and flow, and though I spent a lot of time fishing it, there were no takers.

 

In fact, my one Salmon River steelhead came in a raging section at the bottom of a deep run. The fish came up immediately after hookset, and I could see it was a handsome dark horse of a buck. I reset the hook, and prepared to steer the fish into the arena of some calmer waters. As I had my way with this morning’s steelhead, so did this fish do unto me. As I applied pressure, he moved with great conviction into a spider web of a freshly drowned tree’s branches. In an instant, he was gone.

 

My souvenir of the fight was a single leaf attached to the hook point. To seal the deal, the buck porpoised four times, moving upstream a few feet after each leap, as if to say, “You don’t frighten me, tall man in the tan rain jacket!”

 

One-for-two is always agreeable, and on the walk out, I felt no need to justify my trip. I had explored new waters. Seen and fished a stretch of the Salmon at a level I had never experienced. Expanded my steelhead knowledge database.

 

On the hike back to the truck, I came across a discarded pair of white men’s boxer shorts on the forest floor.

 

Some things, I just don’t want to know.

 

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On the hike back to the truck, I came across a discarded pair of white men’s boxer shorts on the forest floor.

 

A gentleman would have picked them up, and posted a "Describe them and they're yours" post here.

 

 

 

Nice tale. I'm sympathetic to that sinking feeling that occurs when you start looking at your fish:miles driven ratio.

 

Unfortunately, as of late I can't claim to have done anything at all to change the fish side of it, despite continually adding more miles.

 

 

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Thanks so much for the kind words. Most of all, thanks for reading.

 

I haven't submitted anything for publishing in a while, but I have a few things in the pipeline right now that should see the light of day soon. :-)

 

Steve

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Great read Fisherman. We should probably fish together sometime. I hail from Glastonbury and make the trip 4-5 times a year. Close friend drove up Saturday for a one day trip probably could have used some company. I couldn't make it due to previous commitment. He fished DSR and only hooked one. I'm hoping to get up there between Christmas and New Years if weather permits. I have fished with flyrodder a few years back when he was new to the salt.

 

Andy

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Hi Andy,

 

I know your name and remember Bob mentioning you.

 

These trips are almost haphazard in their generation; many stars and planets need to align. Fun when it all happens, though. Glad you enjoyed the piece.

 

Steve

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I am up for a 2 to 3 day trip between Christmas and New Years. I need some redemption after the misery of last December. It was my first steelhead trip ever where I didn't get so much as a bump.

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Hey Bob, I've been following your reports on your striper success since our last trip. You have had some outstanding trips for Stripers. Let's keep an eye on things in Pulaski and once we have a handle on weather and water we can decide if it is doable. A mid week trip maybe Tuesday - Wednesday maybe a Thursday would be great.

 

Andy

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Very good read and thought provoking, adding adventure to your fishing trip......mmmmmmm sounds like fun. I will do the SR again, it was "interesting" and fun with the guys I knew (and got to know), even managed a few steelhead and hooked a bunch. Enjoy your flys and adventures Fisherman.

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Nicely crafted, indeed.

The mysterious boxers seem like a missed opportunity, though. Perhaps you should start a writing contest to incorporate them; in the style of McGuane or Hiaasen (pick one).

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Thanks guys. I appreciate your readership. Btw, my friends call me Steve...please do the same. :-)

 

I saw a few other oddball items of a -- shall we say "personal" nature -- at various points on the way back. Curious (or not) how these things end up in woods.

 

Dreaming of the river today and wishing I was there/

 

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