Monday, September 19, 2011

Drift Boats On The Salmon River

As we move into October, many of us are starting to get serious about Steelhead in New York State on the Salmon River and the surrounding creeks.  My favorite time is through the entire month of November as the high level pressure of the salmon run starts to dissipate to a mild roar.  I always can find great water to fish with a fly rod even though it can get a bit tight at times.  November is not a time I worry about mobility as the entire river is accessible by foot and the weather and river height is usually manageable.

There does come a time, after this period, when the weather turns cold and the snow starts to fly that having the advantage of a drift boat comes in very handy.  Between the heater in the bow and the ability to fish many pools, having the boat may make the difference in a comfortable trip or one that has you working hard to see but a few locations per day.  I have made these trips a number of times and have enjoyed them fully.  Remember, you don't have to fish out of the boat all the time.  Fish the spots that are not available from shore while in the boat and wade the others.  Spot hopping is made easy and the amount of time saved adds about 25% fishing time to the day.  Long walks in the snow may be necessary when the places close to roads are crowded.

There is a difference in guides.

One thing that is very important will be to pick a guide with a boat that suites your style of fishing.  These fellows are very hardy folk and put in some hard days on this wild river.  I have fished it during high as well as low water and the navigation can be tricky at times.  Just explain how you like to fish and if you are into swinging flies then a guide who likes to back up plugs will  not be a good choice.  Some are now advertising that they are into two hand rods as well.  Talk it out and you will be in good shape.

In any case, now is the time to get your early winter trip planed and guide secure.  This is a very active fishery and the best are taken year after year early.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Day Of Gratitude

All this week I worked with the intention that I was off to one of two great fishing locations.  I tied Black Ghosts, Orange Red Dots, Stalcup Medallion Emmergers, Dick's Killers, Black Leaches, Wood Specials, Brown Owls and LaFontaine Sparkle Emergers.  This was only to replenish some flies that I knew I would want.  The car was packed and gassed, rods are lined and cleaned.  I set the alarm for 4am, retired early and was ready to go.

So what happened as I sit here in my living room watching the 9-11 ceremonies and find myself falling in and out of strings of emotion?

What it comes down to is that I was on my own today.  Today of all days I was not going to be able to drive three hours, fish all day and make the drive home alone.  It is hard enough on regular days to get up the ambition to travel and fish alone but today was impossible.  I woke, turned on the TV and knew that was it.  A little later my wife asked what happened.

So today on September 11, 2011, I am going to put the pleasure of fishing on the side and remove it from my mind.  Alone is what so many have suffered for the last ten years.  Alone is what the brave wives, fathers, husbands, daughters and and sons of our fallen will endure today.  Alone is something that you do because you have no choice.

With so many in our great country living with such empty feelings and the hardship of true loss,  I will spend this day at home with my prayers, hope and gratitude for those who have given so much for me and my family.


Fly Tying Tip #120

When we look at flies that are time honored,  there is a simplicity and purpose to the materials.  Keep your work simple and use less rather than more.

This is The Wood Special created by Joe Sterling in the 1930's.  Notice the symmetry of back and front and the vibrant choice of contrast in the center.   Almost like Joe was sending Morse Code.

Many great flies share this composition.  Keep things simple with dots and dashes in contrast and not only will your tying improve but your catch rate as well.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Skating With A Shadow

That first morning was just a wonder to experience.   With the crispness of an early fall and the smell of a fires warmth filling the air, I was giddy with anticipation.  With the sun coming up red below a wall of clouds moving in from the west,  I gazed down the big Restigouche River taking in the magic of light that Northern New Brunswick can display.  My heart was at peace and a feeling of being fortunate overwhelmed me.

In my life as an angler of Salar, there are few places that can stir my heart as distinctly as having private pools on one of the most majestic rivers in the world.   You say names like Alta, Cascapedia, Litza, Gaula and then you whisper Res-ti-gouche.  Restigouche as it rolls past your lips sounding like a lost brother.  I am allotted two days in this part of heaven and intend to make every minute count.   My long time guide is ready and I have looped on a big SunRay Shadow for my first pass through the pool.  We take the boat well above, cut the motor and quietly drift to set the killick.  Time is standing still......The ancients are watching and I am among friends of sole purpose who have long past.  The ritual is being repeated.  The time before is gone and I am now thrust into history.

The Shadow is a big fly even for a river like The Restigouche .  It's four inch wing of black will slither close to the surface as the construction is on a plastic tube.  You pulsate the fly to increase the action as it swings through known salmon resting places.  Mine and my guides eyes do not leave the path of the fly as the take will be a big boil and savage eruption of the surface.  This is a fly fished in a style that a salmon will chase and take with great furry. 

The history of these hallowed places has been kept hidden for over one hundred and forty years.  I am not talking about the surrounding history of the people and who, where and what they did.  I'm talking about what happened in this very place when water met fly and fly met salmon.  Sure, we know about the politicians and money magnates that have owned and experienced being part of "The Club" where wealth, fame and power are required for entrance.  But we don't know a great deal about the fishing as if enrollment in the society came with a contract of non disclosure.   This very limited access, as well as low profile is one of the factors that has kept the river alive through some very hard times.  The old and limited public records offer some clues.  With angling in double digit quantities per day and fish over forty pounds common, gleaning the rivers potential as well as what can not be achieved today is clear.  The famous Patamagaw pool that has world recognition as Million Dollar, once held thousands of salmon by the middle of July and will now hold a mere five hundred.  But that doesn't sound so bad now does it?

A wind from the west started to rise and pushed the clouds over the edge.  I don't like the west wind as it always feels like it is rushing things and seems to mostly have a northern dryness.  I think it drops the river quickly and makes the fish feel a bit on edge.  As a few hours went by without so much as seeing a fish move, I was taken over by memories.  Drifting in and out of present to past becomes easier when fishing is mechanical.

"Oh, did ya see er", the ever vigilant guide said.

No, I wasn't looking, I said.

"A big boil behind yer floy".

I let my line dangle for a few moments to give the fish a chance to return to the place of comfort.  Then the same cast with the same amount of line and my attention is now in video game mode.  Take it, Take it! Nothing happens.  At least now we know that the possibility is there and it will take a bit of time for my mind to be drifting off the prize again.

At that moment I heard the voice of my father singing in the wind.  I was only a young boy the first time I sat in the bow of a Gaspe boat.  The feeling of a gentle rocking with the sound of the river slapping it's way past and on to The Bay of Chaleur.  I smiled with both a feeling of loss and the appreciation for knowledge that was taught to me would be true.  "You are a Restigouche man", he would say.  "And you will know what to do when the time comes for decisions".  My farther thought that salmon angling was as close a description for a good life as a person could experience.  You start off with very little and with great effort you learn how be successful.  Each persons success is different and we all have a shot at the jackpot.

The voice again was in my head.

"Watch what I do here Billy."  I just raised a fish and I am letting it rest.  "Now, I'm gonna pull in about six feet of line and then make a cast"   Add six inches, six inches more, six inches.  "Fish on", he said!  And now time and generations will play with each other and what I learned will be displayed as it has so many times on this river of light.

As we removed the Sunray from the salmon, I was thrilled.  The fish, by Restigouche standards, was average at best but the process was fulfilled and that means something of great importance.

I thought how Pop would be proud as we went in for dinner.

I love the evening session.  From the moment the bell goes off I have a great sense of urgency.  I know that dark is close enough at hand and will come far too quickly.  Strangely, it is the edge of darkness that is needed for the fish to come alive.  This is the time that shows who we can be, and the level of our talent will fade quickly with the light if we are not up to the game.   I do see many anglers push the darkness much farther than I do.  I feel they are the desperate ones who for some reason have not lived with satisfaction.  I have hooked fish close to dark and landed them in pitch black.  Not very good for the fish if you are releasing it back to the river.  I know that they are looking up and the sky offers just the right background.  I also know that a salmon can see both white and black in total darkness.  They can see blue until the lights go out.  I tied on a Black Dose in size 4 as the clouds turn dark losing the translucent glow of the sun for another day.

On the forth cast and very close to the boat I had a very strong take.  The fish turned on the fly and was running as fast as possible toward the sea.  My reel was singing as only a Hardy can and in a matter of blinks the fish was jumping through my backing.  The river is very wide and has few obstructions to hinder the playing of a big fish.   Your biggest issue will be the current taking the belly of your line in places that direct the fish and take away what little control you might have.  We pulled the killick and started the motor.

Drifting slowly as I tried to get a bit of line back on the reel the fish decided to now come straight up river and directly at the boat.  This wasn't really happening, was it?  Now I had all line back and the salmon and our path directly converged.  I stuck my rod tip in the water on the down stream side of the boat and moved to the bow to clear the rod all the while the fish charged up river.  I really don't like changing the angle so much as it can cause harm to the fish as well as loosen the grip of the fly.  Dark was now coming fast .

As we motored to a side position close to the river right shore I was able to exit and at this moment the fish sounded.  When a big salmon sits itself on the bottom and refuses to move you are at the fishes mercy.  You can throw rocks, splash an oar or you can "Play the Guitar".  I tightened up firmly and started to strum a one note tune.  Pull a little harder and pitch goes up.  Then a bit of movement and we could now work the fish to shore.   The darker it gets, the more I dislike the situation and the more risk I am willing to take.  I don't want to over handle the fish and I don't want to have it on the line more than necessary.

We had the fish in hand in just a few more moments.  My guide ran his hand down the leader to retrieve the Dose and without so much as a lift out of the water the prize directed one good tail slap with a spray of water in my face and was gone.  Tomorrow would be here very soon now.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over creating the same result.  Sounds like successfully chasing silver to me.....


This story is a excerpt from "Angling as if it Were True" A collection of writings based on a life of experiences.