Saturday, March 31, 2012

Winter's Silence

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. I just wanted you all to know I did not fall through the ice this year to a watery grave; I am indeed alive and kicking, still. My ice fishing season was cut short this year partly due to abnormally warm weather, and partly because I couldn’t pull myself away from the fly bench. I’ve never been super-gong-ho about ice fishing anyways, and this years season was cut short by at least a month for most of the people I know who are really into it. Most years you could ice fish certain ponds and lakes well into the month of April, not this year. This year most guys I know were done around the first week of March, others were done even sooner than that.

On the bright side, the fly fishing season should heat up a little earlier this year. Most years April is always tough for finding fish, especially with melting snow pack, but this year the snow pack is gone and we are just over the mid-March hump. So in all reality we could see May’s hatches come in April this year. I’m going to start monitoring the water temps in the three main rivers I fish to see how quickly they are rising. With plenty of beautiful days ahead of us we could see the waters hitting the 45-55 degree range very soon, which means trout will be comfortably on the feed…

The last fishing-report style blog I did I believe was the one on the salmon run back in October, after that was the post about wild brook trout titled “The Little Things”, but since October there has been a lot of fishing; let’s see if I can give you a recap of sorts.

In the late fall I decided to introduce my mother to the world of steelheading. She has always loved to fish but has never been a fan of the cold, so I was wondering how this experience was going to go. Typically, steelhead season kicks off in November, after the Salmon spawn. Steelheading requires you to adjust to the bitter cold that must be endured to play with this species. The area we fish is also part of a snow-belt known as the “Tug-Hill Region”. Let’s say we get hit with a foot of snow in Vermont, in the Tug Hill region, that same storm would probably equate to three or more feet. Luckily this year was an unusually warm one, and mom didn’t have to get the full winter steelhead introduction.

In early December, Mom, Matt(The guy who went to the Salmon Run), and I made the trek to Salmon River NY. The flows were abnormally high on the Salmon so a friend of mine, Shane, from Altmar Outfitters, suggested we make our first stop at a small Lake Ontario tributary called Sandy Creek.

The ride over was the usual coffee raging, slightly lost, midnight ramble that it always is. Matt had just gotten out from a 12 hour shift and slept cozily in the back of my mom’s flashy new Buick sedan. I had decided to give my truck a break and ride in style this time, something I’m sure my mom wanted anyways, considering her new car, with its gazillion electronic buttons and built in voice-command on-star makes my Chevy truck seem closer to a horse and carriage, than an actual modern day vehicle.

While Matt slept, my mother and I did about 4 hours of chatting, something I know she greatly enjoys, and I was just happy to have someone awake and alive to interact with, to keep me from swerving off the road at the wheel. Most times these trips are only two-man operations, with one, or both men “just getting off a work shift”. Naturally one man drives and one catches a brief nap, in hopes that at least one of them has their wits about them, by sunrise on the river. Over the last 5 years since becoming a steelhead junkie I’ve grown accustomed to these 36 hour fish binges. I get up around 9 AM and go about my day as usual, depart from home around 11 PM for the river, and arrive at the river town around 5 AM. The cashier that sells me my coffee can tell I’m in desperate need of sleep. When I return after a full days fishing in the bitter cold, she’ll look at me and wonder if someone opened up a meth lab in town.

Learn to ignore the things you see in this flashback town, like the midget carpenter that walks into the gas station with his morning work crew, the tool belt around his waist holding a hammer almost low enough to put the handle in his boot. You don't mention the weird shit you see to your fishing companions, unless of course you both see it simultaneously, like the guy at the traffic light in front of you, sitting in an IROC-Z, still rocking some kind of mullet influenced hair-style, with a license plate that should say “whitesnake”, if only New York would allow two more characters. The first day of any Salmon River trip is usually rough, and always ends with a hot meal and a few beers to ensure I reach R.E.M stage sleep as soon as possible. Staying up for 36 hours is a cinch, you just have to learn to ignore the minor hallucinations that start after the 24 hour mark and you’ll be just fine.

The first day out with my mom was spent on Sandy Creek. It was actually my first time fishing this particular creek and it was nice to see some new water. Sandy Creek is about 50-60 feet wide, and cascades over flat rock shelves and stone table-tops creating little pockets and plunge pools around every bend. It is the perfect place to bring a newbie. The wading is entry level, the water is easy to cover, and it's not as crowded as the World Famous Salmon River.

Quickly we got into fish. Matt wasted no time and hauled in his first chromer, a fresh male over the 20 inch mark. I raced to zoom in from the bank with my camera but the fish made off before I could even get the lens cap off, slipping out of Matt's hands and into the river. There would be more camera problems later on when Matt landed another fish, a nice fat domestic rainbow, and the power failed to turn on due to the cold temps. We didn't risk stressing the fish waiting for the camera to power up, so we just let him go. After that day I started packing the pockets of my camera bag with hand and foot warmers and haven't had a problem since.

We fished down to the first bridge and got into a bunch of fish. I managed to lose three in a matter of four or five casts: two spit hooks and a break off. When we reached the downstream bridge we decided to take a break, have lunch, and head to Salmon River to see what we could get into.

It was good to be back on the Salmon in familiar territory, but the fishing had already died down. My mom retired early and Matt and I spent the end of the day taking in the scenery, although from an outsiders view, it probably looked more like two men desperately searching for fish, covering as much water as daylight would allow them, and throwing “everything but the kitchen sink” into the river in hopes for a shot at the “day-breaker fish”.

The day-breaker fish comes mysteriously. In those last hours of daylight, after a million casts without a pull, you get that tug you've been looking for all day long. Perhaps that tug solidifies the days efforts for you. Perhaps it solidifies the days efforts for your entire party. In my early days of Steelheading there would sometimes be trip-breaking fish. To be shamefully honest, I didn't land a steelhead until my third trip to Salmon River. I had been beat by a few wall hangers and made a sore loser from my own bad knots on many occasions. So when we ended that trip and Mom didn't land one I wasn't surprised; nobody said steelheading was easy work.

Matt had a good trip, but he got a great introduction to handling larger salmonoids during the salmon run a month before, so I was sure landing them wasn't going to be a big problem for him. He didn't land any real hogs but he got a enough of a taste to want to come back for more.  I can definately see he is starting to develop both a passion for these migratory fish, as well as a general love for the Salmon River.  God help him! lol

Matt and I would return later in the winter to find the river still at a raging flow. This years unusually warm weather has kept the Salmon River pumping at spring level flows. The fishing has been a little easier, at least on the human bodies out in pursuit of it.

I had psyched Matt up in the months before the Steelhead came in, about winter weather in western New York. Matt does some winter hiking in the mountains of New Hampshire so he was certainly well prepared, but the weather over there never showed it's true face for him to experience it for himself. I can't say I missed the weather, but the jury is still out on how the climate change will affect the spring steelhead fishing.

Matt and I will be finding out in about a week or so as we make what will be a first for us both: drop-back season. For those of you unfamiliar with imprinted tailwater steelhead, these fish spend all fall and winter making their way up into the tributaries of the waters from which they came from. They come in to “get it on” and continue their cycle of life. When they reach the end of the river, their spawning grounds, it's like a big sex party, and come spring, when they all decided they've either done the job or had enough, they drop back, as hungry as you or I would be after a three month sex binge. The fishing is supposed to be fantastic, but we will see.

Enjoy the fish porn....

1 comment:

  1. Excellent read Art. Thanks. BTW, nice fish!!!!! Gotta love steel!